“When it comes to climate protection, there, we need a radical nature.”
Baerbock’s ideological outlook consists of three main points. First, climate action is an interconnected fight that encapsulates solutions to numerous international issues. Second, climate protection requires radical action. Third, good policy making requires acknowledging reality as it is to change it for the better. These three points compress the essence of how Baerbock approaches making her political ideology a reality. Hence, understanding them leads to understanding Baerbock’s political outlook and stake. This results in realising the courses of action that Baerbock is prone to exhibit and the decisions she is willing to make to achieve her desired outcome.
Both as a politician and a climate leader, Baerbock’s exhibits policies and actions towards three main stakes. Domestically, making coal exit a reality for Germany as soon as possible; regionally, tackling the dependency on fossil fuel energy and to replace the demand with green sources; internationally; increasing international climate policy cooperation. The two biggest challenges for Baerbock are, domestically, the problem of Germany’s energy mix and the role of coal in that mix; and overall, the problems created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In light of this, the stake section analyses the key environmental challenges and issues Baerbock aims to solve and how climate, as well as the challenges, relate to Baerbock as a green politician and a climate leader. It will be demonstrated that even though Baerbock started her career and climate leadership through domestic politics, Baerbock’s ultimate stake showcases how multifaceted the climate issue truly is, and hence, should be dealt with from numerous, inter-connected branches.
The controversy of nuclear energy, and Germany’s dependence on fossil fuels
At the end of 2010, Germany’s government under Angela Merkel launched the Energiewende, a significant plan to upgrade its energy system’s efficiency and rely primarily on renewable energy sources. The nation has chosen a strategy for its energy future to 2050 that calls for an expedited phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022. In the initiation year, the gross power production of renewable energy in Germany increased significantly, with a consequent decrease in nuclear power.
Nuclear energy has long had its opposition and has been a debate issue in Germany. Ever since the 1970s and early 80s, with the anti-nuclear movements before the plants were first powered up in the mid-1980s to the present day. The 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe in the Soviet Union fueled the already on-going anti-nuclear war protests back then. Following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, the prior chancellor, Angela Merkel, reversed her stance on the continuum of nuclear power and set 2022 as the deadline for shutdown.
As the highest rated gross power production source until 2007, the absence of nuclear production raises a considerable energy source vacuum, which had to be replaced with alternative sources of energy. Even though a remarkable increase in the renewable energy production is seen, having been roughly doubled in one decade, surpassing the hard coal and lignite productions; regarding domestic power production Germany still remains heavily reliant on fossil fuel energy.
In a climate perspective, decreasing nuclear power when renewables are not in a position to uphold the demand, affects both the climate negatively as well as Germany and the EU’s green goals and policies. Not only the coal plants are the biggest polluters in the EU but also nine out of the ten most polluting institutions of the region are coal power plants, whose majority are located in Germany. After Poland, Germany’s Neurath plant stands at the second place of the highest CO2 production with nineteen million metric tons equivalent in 2020. Overcoming this challenge makes up Baerbock’s first stake; enabling Germany’s energy mix to come to a point where a total coal phase-out is achievable through replacing it with renewable energy.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Germany’s energy mix
Prior to Russia’s invasion, Germany’s goal to simultaneously exit coal and nuclear was viewed as ambitious but doable. Especially the notable growth of wind power, both offshore and onshore, looked promising to ease the transition, all while natural gas imported from Russia was set to further ease this transition. With Russia weaponizing the EU’s dependence on Russian Gas in light of its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the energy vacuum to occur after a simultaneous exit from nuclear, coal power and a forced exit from Russian gas became a national security issue for the German government.
In 2021, renewable sources accounted for nearly forty-one percent of the electricity generated in Germany, nearing half of the demand. Some twenty eight percent was sustained through lignite, brown coal, and hard coal. The number went up to twenty-nine percent in 2022 before the end of the year came. Germany opted for natural gas as the bridging energy source until renewable power is available to meet the demand. Even though natural gas is desired to be the bridge between the transition in the times of war, the fifteen percent contribution of domestic gas power to electricity production remains insufficient to cope with the twenty-eight percent of coal’s. Furthermore, the dependence on Russian gas varies within Europe. According to the calculations of the IMF, International Monetary Fund, Germany is amongst those whose dependency is considerably higher.
The simultaneous phase out combined with the lack of Russian Gas supply lead to concerns and thus divisions in perspective as to how to proceed with the exit from both sources. Domestically, Germany still produces a significant amount of its own electricity from fossil fuels, especially coal. Even though the source is considered the most polluting of the energy sources, three major factors enabled coal power plants to become the short-termed solution to tackle the lack of supply and energy concerns in the near future; the lack of sufficient alternatives to replace coal, the Green party’s viewpoint on the employment of nuclear energy, and the EU’s immediate necessity of an alternative energy source.
According to the Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, in 2020, the energy mix of the bloc majorly consisted of five sources; petroleum products (%35), natural gas (%24), renewable energy (%17), nuclear energy (%13), and solid fossil fuels (%12). The forty-two percent of the production of the energy belonged to the EU whilst the fifty-eight percent was imported. Even with significant initiatives such as the Green Deal, the bloc remains significantly dependent on fossil fuel energy still.
The quarter of the energy the bloc utilises is natural gas. As specified by the European Commission only the ten percent of the natural gas utilised is met by domestic production. Importing the remaining ninety percent, makes the EU the biggest importer of natural gas in the world. In 2021, the bloc imported forty-one percent of the natural gas imports from Russia. This not only indicates the EU’s dependence on natural gas but also on Russian Gas and the bloc’s immediate need to diversify the energy mix; either towards a more independent scenario or stronger collaborations. Worse case scenario estimated by Goldman Sachs Research, in the event of a full shutdown of the gas supply, meaning the remaining twenty percent of supply to be stopped, European households can experience a sixty-five percent increase in the energy costs to around an additional five hundred euros per month.
The lack of energy supply to be imported due to the invasion and its immediacy made the EU look inside for alternatives. As the biggest energy supplier to the bloc Germany’s simultaneous exit from two significant energy sources with notable volume of energy production raised controversy regarding; the continuance or discontinuance of Germany’s nuclear power plants, and the source of new natural gas: new regional power plants or imported.
A secondary challenge of the invasion to the bloc creates obstacles for the EU’s future initiatives, mainly the Green Deal, which is the EU’s strategy to meet its 2050 climate goal. The three pillars aimed to be achieved through the European Green Deal as stated by the European Commission are: no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth decoupled from resource use, no person and no place left behind. The climate neutrality clause and the no net greenhouse gas emissions goal are the two significant objectives being affected by Russia’s invasion due to the lack of alternative energy that can replace Russian Gas. Since renewable energy is not yet enough to meet the demand of the bloc, it creates a need and demand for fossil fuels. Even before the invasion, the EU had been relying considerably on fossil fuel energy as it invested in renewable energy for the future transition. The recent vacuum and threats to energy security warranted the exit of fossil fuels for longer and increased the short-termed dependency on them. Baerbock’s second goal is to overcome this challenge; to bring the EU’s energy mix to the point where comprehensive coal phase-out and fossil fuel exit are feasible through replacement with renewable energy without creating threats to energy security.
International Climate Policy
Climate policies on regional and international levels have been gaining momentum and their importance is ever-growing. Countries and other stakeholders have acknowledged that large global greenhouse-gas emission reductions are required, along with adaptation, to prevent the worst effects of global warming.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is addressing the threat of global warming on a worldwide scale (UNFCCC). To stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would stop harmful anthropogenic intervention with the climate system is its long-term goal. Such a threshold should be reached in a time frame that will allow ecosystems to adjust to climate change naturally, ensure that food production is not jeopardised, and allow for sustainable economic growth. Germany was one of the first countries to establish clear principles and goals for climate policy with the goal of being greenhouse-gas-neutral by 2050 when it introduced its “Climate Action Plan 2050” back in November 2016.
On December 12, 2015, world leaders gathered in Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) made a breakthrough to combat global warming and its detrimental effects on an international level: The Paris Agreement. The legally binding international treaty entered into force on November, 4 2016 with 193 Parties, 192 countries and the EU, having signed the agreement. All parties have agreed to decrease their emissions and cooperate to adapt to the effects of global warming. The Agreement encourages nations to make stronger pledges over time, offering a sturdy structure that will direct the international effort. It introduces a shift towards a world with zero emissions. Germany plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as part of its “Climate Action Plan 2050” effort by at least 65 percent by 2030. At least an 88 percent decrease is the desired result for 2040. The nation had already cut its emissions by 40.8% by 2020.
At COP26, nations ratified the Glasgow Climate Pact, which calls for doubling funding to assist developing nations in preparing for and coping with the effects of global warming. Glasgow also created a work schedule to establish a global aim on adaptation, which will specify group requirements and address the global warming challenge, which is already hurting many nations. On January 27, 2022 Baerbock attended the Major Economies Forum representing Germany on Energy and Climate for the first time to discuss how to put the accords made at COP26 in Glasgow into practice.
In her opening speech at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, Baerbock stressed the ambitious nature of the promise made in Glasgow; the commitment made highlights the fact that there are eight years remaining to practically half world emissions. According to Baerbock, the climate problem, which endangers the lives of millions of people, is the greatest challenge of our time. This results in the current age’s most pressing problem with regard to international security. Germany and their Egyptian allies collaborated to convene the dialogue to address the matter. This indicates a lead up to COP 27 in Egypt.
The need for international cooperation on global warming is more central than ever. However, it must be noted that international treaties and their goals can only be sustained with the close and ongoing collaboration amongst unions, nations, and parties. One of Baerbock’s ideological tenets dictates collaboration and togetherness amongst involved parties for sustainable and impactful change. This is the future international climate action policies are moving forward for effective results.
Annalena Baerbock in the face of current and environmental challenges
Baerbock’s main focus is to highlight the complexity of climate action, and thus it must be dealt with from multiple perspectives. According to Baerbock’s observations global warming requires radical action from multiple facets to have an impactful change. This is evident from the start of her career and especially when Baerbock stated in 2018 that a swift exit from coal was crucial or else it would be too late to cut the dependency on coal energy. A moment that will be discussed at length in the section defining moment.
Domestically, she focused mainly on phasing out coal and making Germany’s energy mix renewable based. As Baerbock moved to foreign ministry, her focus extended. Regionally, phasing the EU out of fossil fuels by introducing renewable alternatives and, internationally, strengthening the international climate policy through stronger and wider, inter-departmental collaborations. Ever since, Baerbock has become a symbol for climate activism and in politics by being the first foreign minister whose central policy issue is climate action.
In light of this, solving the energy problem and fossil fuel dependency of both Germany and the EU is not only crucial for Baerbock as a foreign minister but also for her political identity. The lack of energy supply creates security issues for Germany, which is a challenge for the foreign minister. Employing coal, or another fossil fuel, as the short-term solution presents a personal matter for Baerbock’s political identity and values due to her radical, green-policy approach in the face of challenge. Baerbock advocates that in the face of challenges to enable sustainable change, one must take radical action instead of going back to conformity, which has proved to have worked in the expanse of climate protection. Thus, Baerbock pledged to take action through exercising Germany’s presidency in the Baltic Sea Council to advocate for the development of offshore wind energy as a solution instead of turning back to employing fossil fuels.
Solving the fossil fuel dependency in the energy mix is a key matter for Germany. Germany is one of the countries in the EU with the highest dependence on Russian gas, which is simultaneously exiting from two of its significant power sources. The lack of Russian gas supply whilst phasing out creates national energy security problems. Employing fossil fuels to bridge the gap creates a different type of dependency, which is on fossil fuels and is more environmentally detrimental. The wind and sun, renewable energy, do not belong to any nation. This brings a chance for independence. According to Baerbock “The phase-out of fossil fuels is therefore not only a climate policy necessity, but also a security policy imperative.”
Addressing the issue is not only a central element of Baerbock’s ideological outlook but also of the political party she represents, the Greens. Hence, solving the issues of coal dependency in Germany and fossil fuel in the EU through advocating green solutions is imperative for Baerbock’s ideological and political outlook.
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