The Fridays for Future youth movement has piled on the pressure; in Germany, politicians are debating a carbon tax. DW spoke with Environment Minister Svenja Schulze about whether climate protection efforts are enough.
DW: We keep hearing that 2019 will be a decisive year for international climate protection. The UN will deal with the issue in a summit in New York in September, and at the end of the year we'll have another big climate conference, this time in Chile. How can Germany regain its credibility in this process, which has suffered in the last couple of years?
Svenja Schulze: People are watching what's being done in Germany, in terms of climate protection. The fact that we as an industrial nation are completely abandoning nuclear energy and coal is being closely watched, also at the European level. Across Europe alone, we have more than 40 coal districts. And there is a large interest in how Germany came to an agreement on how to phase out coal, and who we included in that discussion.
Now it's all about following the recommendations of the coal commission for a structure that's sustainable and directed toward the future.
On September 20, Germany's "climate cabinet"will make some important decisions. Three days later Germany will show its commitment in New York at the UN climate summit on an international stage.
The UN climate conference in Chile in December will be all about how international trade with CO2 certificates can work. We already have an emissions trading system in the EU, but we have to avoid double counts when it comes to international emissions trade. That's important, for example when it comes to the question of how to deal with rainforests in Brazil.
But so far those are only goals, not agreements for fixed projects. What kind of package does Germany need in its portfolio in New York with in order to be credible? Is it enough to say we will phase out coal by 2038?
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made it very clear that he expects us to not only hold soapbox speeches, but to clearly define how to achieve our goals. And this is what we are preparing for in the "climate cabinet." That's where the ministries are currently working on concrete sets of measures for all sectors. Phasing out coal is only one of the measures — albeit a very important one.
But that actually shows that citizens are ready to take on more responsibility. Shouldn't politics say more clearly that everyone will have to pay more for climate protection?
It's difficult to just say it like that, because there are a lot of people who simply cannot afford that. It's about giving the right incentives and supporting and enabling climate-friendly behavior.
If I rent an apartment, I can ask the landlord to refurbish the house so that the utilities costs decrease. But there's no leverage for that. That shows that the political framework has to be right. And there needs to be financial relief for those who cannot afford it.
That's why it was so important for me when I suggested a CO2 tax, that politicians create a tax that's fair and won't burden people with a small income. That's possible. We have to charge the people who produce a higher carbon footprint more. People with a small apartment and a small car have the lowest carbon footprint. Those are usually also people who don't travel very far.
Is that enforceable in Germany?
It has to be enforced; I don't even want to think of the alternative. If we don't manage to make a shift, if our CO2 emissions keep being twice as high as the worldwide average, then it will be difficult for us, our environment, but also the economy, which will lag behind new developments.