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“We can’t afford another crisis” – an interview with Claudia Kemfert

This crisis has most certainly changed the world.  Photo: Sabine Braun“This crisis has most certainly changed the world.”  Photo: Sabine BraunProfessor Claudia Kemfert (40) is Germany’s leading economics expert in the areas of energy research and climate protection. Her second book, “Jetzt die Krise nutzen” (lit. “Exploit the crisis now”), was published in 2009 and explores the opportunities in the climate change sector that could actually pull us out of the financial crisis.

Professor Kemfert, who is your target group and what are you trying to achieve with your latest book?

Jetzt die Krise nutzen is intended to show politicians the way out of the crisis and make the opportunities for doing so more tangible. It builds on the findings in the book Die andere Klimazukunft (lit. The Other Climate Future) from 2008, which is directed towards everyone from consumers and companies to politicians.

As an economist, how would you assess the current business and financial crisis?

“Sources of renewable energy have to be promoted.”  Photo: Jon Schulte © iStockphotoThis crisis has most certainly changed the world. But I look at the future with optimism and see the opportunities before us. We know from history that groundbreaking innovations almost always spring from crisis situations. That makes this crisis a sort of springboard for innovation and a change in trends in the direction of sustainable and climate-friendly power generation and mobility. We can’t afford another crisis. We can’t be saying, “Not right now”. We need to be saying, “Definitely now”.

How would you describe the core message of your book?

If we are smart and address the political aspects we can overcome three crises at once: the economic crisis, the energy crisis and the climate crisis. The German economy is in a unique position to benefit like no other from the boom in sustainable energy as well as from increased energy efficiency, innovative power plant technology and drive unit technology. We are also ideally positioned to reap benefits from the potential world market in traditional environmental protection industries such as waste management, recycling and water treatment systems.

Where does your particular focus on climate protection originate?

Fossil fuels, in particular oil and eventually gas, are becoming increasingly scarce and more expensive. Coal will be available for a long time to come, yes, but burning it produces greenhouse gases that are harmful to the environment. Climate protection is both the solution to and the path out of this dilemma because it creates jobs as well as growth. If politicians create the right incentives now, companies will introduce environmentally conscious business models and consumer activity will be more enlightened. Germany could be among the global winners in the fight against climate change and at the same time emerge vigorously from the current crisis.

Are you a supporter of Smart Grids (intelligent networks) as a model for the future? What are the chances that the newly elected federal government will promote their expansion?

Professor Dr. Claudia Kemfert: “I look at the future with optimism.”  Photo: Sabine BraunThe chances are good but not because the government wants to promote it. It is the companies themselves that are behind it. In the future, beyond intelligent networks that transport data and energy simultaneously, we will have buildings that not only produce their own energy but also consume less of it. Companies are already working on solutions and I am confident that we will soon be able to implement them in Germany.

Where should the new government place its focus?

It is important that the government address and act on creating an energy-efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly economy. The economy needs to recognize the signs of the time and invest in the right markets. Sources of renewable energy have to be promoted and financial incentives have to be put in place that will reduce energy consumption. There is particular potential for energy saving in our buildings, for example, whether commercial or residential.

Where do you see the most potential for growth in environmental and climate protection?

In addition to increased energy efficiency, renewable energy will massively gain in significance along with sustainable transportation concepts like “electromobility”. Combined with traditional environmental protection sectors, up to one million additional jobs could be created in the next 10 years.

How is Germany doing in its leadership role in environmental/climate protection and energy/transportation policy?

Germany began early with the effective implementation of environmental protection legislation. That is why German technologies are leading the way in waste management, recycling and water treatment. In addition, targeted financial support for renewable energy has led to German companies taking leading roles. Having said that, international competition has caught up with them for the most part. Even our public transportation systems have been copied around the world.

Where does Germany have to continue its efforts in order to remain a global player in all things environment and ecology?

“Up to one million additional jobs could be created in the next 10 years.”  Photo: Karen Keczmerski © iStockphotoMost certainly in the area of sustainable mobility, from promoting and expanding the public transportation networks to improving the connections between individual types of transportation and reforming the less-than-climate-friendly product range currently offered by German automobile manufacturers.

In what ways are you yourself setting examples?

At the DIW (an institute for economic research) building I have up to now – unfortunately – only been able to push through energy-saving motion sensors. On a personal level, I avoid everything that will increase my carbon footprint. I am a vegetarian, buy primarily regionally grown organic products, use green electricity, own energy-saving appliances and live in an insulated house. I travel almost exclusively on the train. The long-haul flights upset my footprint but I neutralize these emissions by investing in climate protection projects. Unfortunately, without planes the economy would crumble. But targeted donations to climate protection projects ensure that investments are made that would otherwise not be possible, for example biomass plants in Indonesia. It is important to make sure that they are certified, internationally recognized projects.

Andreas Förster
is a freelance journalist and author living in Munich.

Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
October 2009

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