Climate Protection: A Transatlantic Reason for Optimism

I am optimistic that the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, which starts in a few days, will yield positive results. My reasons for optimism are many, as there is unprecedented transatlantic unity on the issue of climate change. Daily innovations in the energy sector are making green energy more efficient and more affordable, and firm pledges from the public and private sector are all signals that the world is ready to make progress on this complex issue. By combining various commitments from EU member states, the European Union has offered ambitious pledges for the Paris Climate Conference. German-US cooperation on fighting climate change has never been stronger. We see a genuine willingness to lead by the US administration, which is completely in line with our position. The EU and the US are aligned in the fight against climate change and share the same priorities for Paris.
Germany has already proven itself a leader in the field of climate protection. The energy transition, or Energiewende, as we call it in German, is a concrete policy to shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear energy towards renewables such as wind and solar power. The German energy transition fits well with the EU's ambitious energy and climate policy.

Germany's energy transition has three goals:

The energy transition protects the environment. Germany's energy supply is becoming greener from year to year. Whereas in 2000 only around 6 percent of the electricity consumed was renewable, that share will rise to around 30 percent by the end of 2015. With German reunification in 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany inherited an energy sector from the former East Germany that was not only incredibly inefficient but also environmentally disastrous. Today, 25 years later, Germany consumes less energy than it ever has since reunification. In fact, some German homes actually produce more energy than they consume! Germany is now the global solar power leader - despite that parts of the country are at the same latitude as Alaska.
Germany aims to produce 80 percent of its electricity through renewables by 2050. We furthermore want to reduce emission of greenhouse gases by at least 80 percent. Nuclear power, a source of energy without carbon dioxide emissions, is being phased out as well, primarily due to safety concerns. This change temporarily led to more carbon dioxide emissions because nuclear power was at first partly replaced by fossil fuels. However, a rapid expansion in renewables has now counteracted the decrease in nuclear energy, and carbon emissions are now in decline.

The energy transition makes economic sense. Some 370,000 jobs have been created in Germany by the renewable energy industry and 800,000 people work in the field of increasing energy efficiency or reducing energy consumption. Thanks to the energy transition, the costs of wind and solar power have fallen so dramatically that these two sources can generate electricity at the same price as new coal or gas power stations.
German know-how in renewables also offers export opportunities for German companies. The drive for more energy efficiency means that companies use fewer resources and can gain cost advantages over international competitors. Current flexibility gains and planned upgrades to the electric grid spurred by the energy transition will ensure that the number of power outages in Germany will remain among the lowest in the world.

The energy transition is making Germany more independent and providing geopolitical security. Germany has limited natural resources and must import fossil fuels from other countries. Gas and coal are imported from Russia, among other countries, while oil is brought in from countries in the Arabian Peninsula. With advances in renewable energy, Germany has become less dependent on these imports. Renewable energies have now become Germany's leading source of electricity, and the share of fossil fuels dropped by 7 percent in 2014 compared with 2013. In 2013 alone, Germany saved nearly10 billion by replacing imported oil with renewables. Combined with job creation and increases in research and development, Germany is on its way to becoming more energy independent than it has ever been before.

The United States and Germany will remain strong partners during the climate talks in Paris and are both actively encouraging other countries, especially from the developing world, to join the effort to achieve greater climate protection. Of course, Germany continues to work closely with other European countries, but it has also established successful partnerships with countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, India, China, Brazil, and South Africa. In the end, climate protection is a global project and needs the support of all countries on our planet.