″Environmental Protection is Thriving in Germany″ | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.05.2004
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"Environmental Protection is Thriving in Germany"

German Environment Minister Trittin, who has clashed with industry and unions in the past, argues in an interview with DW-TV that eco- friendly policies don't necessarily run contrary to business interests.


Driven by green concerns.

German environment minister Jürgen Trittin, a member of the Green party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, has increasingly locked horns with industry in recent years.

Earlier this month, his plans to implement a EU system of "carbon credits" to companies to cut pollution incensed business leaders. They argued it would put Germany at a serious competitive disadvantage compared to other industrial nations.

Last year, Trittin's controversial law imposing a deposit on one-way bottles and cans used for drinks such as mineral water and beer raised the ire of the beverage industry who complained the scheme was inconvenient for consumers and excessively costly to retailers and bottlers.

DW-TV : Let's begin with a cliche. No one is interested in preventing climate change when money is scarce. Is anyone in the German government interested in environmental protection except you?

Jürgen Trittin: Oh yes. Environmental protection is an industry that's actually thriving here in Germany. We have created tens of thousands of job in the renewable energy industry over the last few years. 120,000 people are employed there. For example, in Magdeburg, it's now the largest industrial employer.

But industrialists say environmental directives make things more expensive. Can you defend Germany as a place to do business when you're trying to convince an investor?

If you look at the number of unemployed, then of course 120,000 is not very much. But if you consider that that is more than in the atomic energy industry and the coal industry together, then you can see that it is a large industry.

Solarschiff Helio am Bodensee

Helio, the first international solar shuttle, in Radolfzell at Lake Constance, Germany. The solar powered ferry can carry up to 50 passengers and 25 bicycles.

And if you look beyond renewable energy sources, we estimate that around 1.3 million people work either directly or indirectly in the environment industry, in services, in environmental control, in waste disposal etc.

The European Union - including, I might add, its new members - has high environmental standards, and the nice thing is that this has led to new chances on the global market for German businesses in this area.

Does that mean Germany isn't interested in investors who don't want to bring energy-inefficient businesses here?

No. I think anyone involved in energy-intensive areas who isn't efficient doesn't have a chance on the global market. The high degree of energy efficiency we've been able to develop in our businesses helps us rather than hurts us in global competition. It's simply untrue that environmentally friendly policies run contrary to business interests.

The perfect example is a country like Germany, poor in raw materials and with high labour costs because of its standard of living. When you asked industrialists, they said the same thing about catalytic converters. When catalytic converters became mandatory, they said it gave them a major push.

Wind power generators, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, photo

Windmills in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

And that's what we keep finding with enviromental policies. Industry is always hesitant at first, but then they brag about the benefits of enviromental policies.

You say EU environmental standards apply to the new EU member states, that will be a long process. Are old EU countries trying to exploit this by reducing standards to the level of the new EU states?

You have to watch the details. One condition for new states joining the EU is that they adopt all our environmental laws. That means the standards are already in force. It would be too expensive to create sewage treatment plants or fit missing filters overnight. There are transitional deadlines which apply correspondingly to the restrictions on free trade.

I'm sure that the EU expansion will lead to major environmental improvement in both Europe and the new member states themselves. The only exception is that because of the division of labour with the EU market, road traffic may grow faster than levels of economic growth.

Environment protection is clear to see in Germany. But things have changed in the last 20 years. Protecting the earth's climate is more complicated. It costs more and takes longer. How can you convince people who are more concerned with economic than environmental necessities to take an interest in renewable energy or global warming?

You have to build bridges. We do have a basic problem with climate change. You can see it currently in the film "The Day after Tomorrow." The point is to prevent catastrophic climatic change, not to learn from it after the event. In the film, the U.S. President comes to realize this.


Environmental concerns are important in Germany

We need to create a win-win situation. If we better insulate buildings, we all save on our heating bills - people who have built or renovated houses now understand this. Insulation programmes are very popular. The same principle applies to much of the renewable energy sector.

We made less progress when it comes to cars. We have made success in the past few years in reducing automotive emissions. In 2003, the decrease was two-and-a-half percent. But we still see that when people decide what car to buy next they go with the biggest and heaviest model.

That continues to be popular. In this case, lifestyle triumphs over reason. There's a lot of work left to do.

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