During my travels as Foreign Minister, my colleagues rarely address me in German. Only a few know more than two or three German words. And yet, some terms in my native language are recognised around the world – because they defy translation. For example, an English speaker may refer to the reinheitsgebot, the wirtschaftswunder or ostpolitik. More recently, they may also speak of the energiewende. “Tell me more about energiewende” is something I’ve heard on several occasions.
The reason for this is that climate change is real – and it’s having a global effect. What we’re setting out to accomplish in Germany in the form of the energiewende is now also happening on a much larger scale around the world. We are witnessing the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age. Studies predict that, as early as the mid 2020s, global oil production will decline. At the same time, renewable sources of energy are becoming ever more competitive.
This global energy transition is creating great opportunities – not only for countries like Germany or China that saw the potential of renewables early on. Many developing countries, too, will benefit. Energy generated from wind, water and solar will give them a chance to more or less leapfrog the fossil fuel age, reduce their dependency on others and secure the energy supply that their populations and economies require.
However, there will be not only benefits and winners. With the decline of the oil and natural gas industries, the role of maritime trade routes is set to decrease, while networks to transport renewable energy will become increasingly important. In future, better protection will be needed for this critical infrastructure. As sources of energy, wind, water and solar are distributed much more evenly across the globe than are oil and gas. That said, the risk of economic crisis and political instability will rise in countries with large oil and gas reserves.
Climate policy is not purely environmental policy. At the latest since #fridaysforfuture, it is also social policy. In addition, it is economic, health and even foreign and security policy. We must therefore take wide ranging action to effectively deal with the respective geopolitical consequences. Whether and how we succeed in doing so will be a key factor in determining our future. This will to a great extent determine the role that Germany plays, and the influence it wields, in a post-fossil-fuel world.
We must take five key actions to set us on the right course: First, we must resolutely pursue the path on which we have embarked in Germany and make our energiewende a success. Today, renewables account for 40 percent of electricity production in Germany. This is a major achievement, not only in terms of climate policy. It is a considerable step towards Germany’s energy independence, and towards greater European sovereignty. The controversial debates on how natural gas fired plants could serve as a bridge to a low carbon future, and on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, have highlighted the urgency of this issue.
Second, climate change is becoming more and more of a danger to peace and security. Already now, we know that drought, flooding and other climate related disasters will have dramatic effects on peace and security around the world. Therefore, we are making the impact of climate change on security policy one of the priorities of our UN Security Council membership over the next two years.
Third, we will step up our efforts to promote a global energy transition. If oil exporting countries do not adapt their current business models in time, they risk political instability that may also spread beyond their national borders. We want to mitigate this through prudent policy, including by offering to establish partnerships that can help such countries diversify their economic models. German companies can be excellent partners in this regard.
Fourth, we must press ahead with regional networking. We must do so within the EU – by translating the Energy Union into action, and through the targeted transfer of technology. However, we also need to build new, denser energy networks with our neighbours. This applies in particular to the countries of North Africa, who thanks to solar energy may soon become important exporters of energy. If we want to successfully tackle the geopolitical effects of energy transition, then we will need new strategic partnerships like these. That is why we are prepared to take even more targeted action to promote investments by German business owners in renewables in developing countries. This will create more energy security and will lower the number of conflicts.
Fifth, we will campaign for global standards on renewables. We want these technologies to become widely available, and we want growing markets to remain open for European companies. On these issues, too, Europe is willing to cooperate with everyone, based on fair ground rules.
To many countries, we are an energiewende pioneer. We will more strongly harness this role to also accelerate developments on a global scale. This is the aim of the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue, for which over the next few days Foreign and Energy Ministers, as well as numerous experts, from more than 90 countries will be gathering in Berlin. Because the global energy transition harbours tremendous opportunity – especially for Germany. It will be all the more rewarding if, in the process, a German word enters the vocabulary of English speakers from New Delhi to New York.