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Jennifer Morgan and Annalena Baerbock at their joint press conference
Jennifer Morgan's appointment is seen as a PR coup for the German foreign ministerImage: John Macdougall/AFP/Pool/Getty Images
PoliticsGermany

Germany unveils Greenpeace head as climate envoy

Jens Thurau
February 9, 2022

The head of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, has become Germany's new climate envoy. Her links to Germany, and the country's environmental policies, go back more than two decades.

https://p.dw.com/p/46hui

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock presented Jennifer Morgan, the chief of Greenpeace International, as a special envoy for international climate policy on Wednesday.

Baerbock of the Green Party gave the impression that she was aware of what an attention-grabbing personnel move she had made. She was beaming, clearly delighted. 

This post has only just been established in Germany — unlike in the US, for example, where former Secretary of State John Kerry holds a similar post. "For me, this is a dream appointment and an important signal for international climate protection," Baerbock said proudly. 

Morgan said she was "honored by the trust" in her to lead Germany's climate policy and that she accepted the "important task with joy and determination."

She also said time is of the essence and that "we need unprecedented international cooperation" to tackle climate challenges.

Baerbock said she was glad that Germany's climate policy was "getting a face" and said it was a "dream appointment" for her.

Germany faces 'gigantic' task meeting climate goals

Jennifer Morgan's tough task

There is probably no one else in Germany who knows more climate observers, activists, and conference negotiators than Jennifer Morgan.

For decades now, going all the way back to the start of UN-backed international climate conferences in the mid-90s, Morgan has been a fixture at these events.

At first, the political scientist and German scholar was active with the environmental group Climate Action News, and also for the World Wildlife Fund. Since 2016, she has been one of two executive directors of Greenpeace International.

At these climate conferences, an interview with her is coveted not only by journalists but government delegations. Hardly anyone knows their way around complicated climate treaties as well as the 55-year-old from New Jersey.

It's thought that Morgan could play a leading role in Germany's efforts to curb global warming on the international stage — particularly as the country takes presidency of the G7 group of leading world economies.

Germany's new government — composed of the Greens, the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) and, as senior partner, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) — has promised to put fighting climate change at the heart of its agenda.

Jennifer Morgan Greenpeace
Jennifer Morgan has been a fixture at international climate conventionsImage: Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium/imago images

Changing role, changing citizenship

Now she's switching sides to become a climate advisor at the German Foreign Ministry. Once Morgan, who has lived in Berlin for many years, obtains German citizenship, she will officially become a state secretary, and be able to leave her mark as a member of future German delegations at climate conferences.

Morgan graduated from Indiana University with a BA in Political Science and Germanic Studies.  It was during this time she read the book "Fighting for Hope" by Petra Kelly, a founding member of the German Green Party, which Morgan has said inspired her and changed her life.

From 1996-97, Morgan spent a year in Germany as a Bosch Fellow and worked for the German Environment Ministry under then Environment Minister Angela Merkel.

She joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1998 and headed its delegation to the Kyoto Protocol climate negotiations. She has also worked for the Climate Action Network, and the World Resources Institute, among others.

In a 2020 interview with DW, Morgan spoke of the dangers of not addressing climate change on an international level.

"I think if you look into the future... where the world hasn't gotten its act together and temperatures continue to rise, you're going to see more conflicts, more refugees and less stability," she said.

Annalena Baerbock had already taken charge of international climate policy shortly after her appointment as foreign minister, bringing key staff from the Environment Ministry into her new office.

Morgan will have to get used to a change of role. From now on, she will have to defend Germany's climate policy at international meetings. Recently, for example, the Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, also of the Green Party, admitted that Germany would not be able to meet its climate targets in the next two years. 

The massive expansion of renewable energies and the planned earlier phase-out of coal-fired power generation by 2030, instead of by 2038 as previously targeted, will be Herculean tasks for the government. Morgan will one the people answering for these changes with immediate effect.

Ahead of the UN climate conference in Glasgow last year, Morgan warned that the summit could be used by countries and companies to "greenwash" their environmental records.

­­­­Criticism from the opposition

A former environmental lobbyist as Germany's new chief negotiator on the international stage? Not all politicians in Germany think that's a good idea.

Referring to some Greenpeace tactics in the recent past, Steffen Bilger, deputy chairman of the conservative CDU/CSU parliamentary group, said on Twitter: "Endangering the airspace of the European soccer championship, dumping paint at [Berlin landmark] the Grosser Stern, stealing car keys and defacing the Reichstag with poster campaigns. And as a reward, the Greens gives them a state secretary post."

Another leader of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Torsten Frei, also raised concerns about her previous work as a lobbyist. He told the German daily Augsburger Allgemeine: "To naturalize a prominent American lobbyist on the fly and make her a civil servant is a highly irregular move."

The world's biggest carbon capture plant

Watchdog sees no issue with Morgan's career change

Indeed, Morgan will have to brace herself for more criticism like this. However, she far from the first to move from environmental advocacy groups into politics, and not everyone thinks the pivot is a bad idea.

Jochen Flasbarth, a longtime state secretary in the Environment Ministry, was also once president of the German environmental group "NABU." Today, Flasbarth is a state secretary in the Ministry of Development. He has known Morgan for many years and thinks very highly of her.

In an interview with DW, he said: "The fact that Baerbock was able to win Jennifer Morgan as climate state secretary is a great success for German climate diplomacy. She knows the international climate agenda, is very well connected and knows the negotiation processes."

Likewise, the watchdog organization "LobbyControl" has no major problem with Morgan's appointment. The firm's lobbying expert Timo Lange said Wednesday, "we have stressed in the past that it should be possible to bring experts from outside into government agenices." But Lange added, "It's also clear, however, that Morgan must represent the positions of the federal government in the future and not those of Greenpeace."

It looks like the new foreign minister has scored a major coup with this appointment.

This article was first published on February 8 and later expanded to include more information. Richard Connor contributed to this report.

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