“We do not need high growth rates” – Martin Jänicke talks about environmental policy in the financial crisis
Following the failed Copenhagen climate summit, Renate Künast, chairwoman of the Alliance 90/The Greens parliamentary group, made the following appeal in December 2009: “Everyone should now do Copenhagen at home.” Can individual citizens do more for the climate, environment and energy-saving than individual states, and even than the community of states?
Yes, if this “homework” concerns the national climate policy of one’s own country. It is clear today that trailblazers working in conjunction with a “coalition of the willing” achieve a great deal more than a policy aimed at getting every last person on board. Although the contribution of the individual is important, it should not be overestimated. Since the average citizen did not create the problems, he or she cannot be the first port of call when it comes to finding a solution.
The Copenhagen climate summit took place at the height of the global financial crisis. Was this crisis perhaps responsible for the summit’s failure – because states did not wish to spend any more money or because they were suddenly more interested in rescuing ailing banks?
It is true that the financial crisis shifted national priorities away from environmental and climate policy. On the other hand, many investment programmes aimed at overcoming the crisis have a strikingly strong ‘green’ component. Ireland, Portugal and even Greece are intensifying their investments in renewable energies, for example.
Low growth rates and budget consolidation do not have to pose an obstacle
Germany is the best example that low growth rates and budget consolidation do not have to pose an obstacle. Despite average growth of a mere one percent (2000-2010) and a policy of budget consolidation, greenhouse gas emissions were cut by nearly 24% as compared to the 1990 figure, while in the first half of this year 25% of electricity was generated from renewable energy sources. During this time employment also rose significantly, in stark contrast to almost all other OECD countries. In other words, we do not need high growth rates to resolve our problems.
You mean that intact public finances, a solid economy and environmental and climate policy are not mutually exclusive, but in fact complement one another, even with respect to prosperity and quality of life. Does that imply that protection of the environment should no longer be regarded as an impediment to growth?
The OECD actually regards it as an engine for growth. An economic trend towards saving natural resources and energy boosts the productivity of companies, thus making them more competitive. Because the process increasingly relies on innovation, this also offers potential for growth, giving rise to new markets and employment opportunities. In countries which – like Germany – suffer from pronounced under-investment, eco-efficient investments act as a counterweight.
Do investments in environmental protection not simply replace previous investments, which have also been too low for too long? Is such an economic policy which targets investment not in effect nothing but a continuation of the old growth-oriented policy with ecological means?
No. Hardly any of that will produce high growth rates. After all, growth in environmentally-friendly technologies results in a contraction of environmentally-intensive sectors. The advantage of “green growth” lies not in higher rates of growth but in a stable economic development which has a less damaging impact on the environment and avoids natural capital losses, which in turn themselves jeopardize growth.
Martin Jänicke: Megatrend Umweltinnovation (i.e. The mega-trend of environmental innovation) , 2nd revised edition, Munich: oekom 2012, ISBN 978-386581242.
From 1971 to 2002, Martin Jänicke was a professor of comparative analysis at the political science faculty of the FU Berlin, where he headed the Research Centre for Environmental Policy. Among other things, he served as planning advisor to the German Federal Chancellery (1974–1976), was a member of the Berlin House of Representatives (1981–1983), the German Advisory Council on the Environment (1999–2008) and the German Commission for UNESCO (1991–1996), and was a representative in the National Committee on Global Change Research (1996–1998). He is currently a member of the German Bundestag’s Committee of Inquiry on “Growth, Prosperity, Quality of Life – Towards Sustainable Development and Social Progress in the Social Market Economy”.
conducted the interview. He is an essayist and professor of political philosophy at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich and of philosophy of science at Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck.
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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