1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Why climate action holds the key to German security

Sherri Goodman
Sherri Goodman
April 16, 2022

Germany must do everything it can to end its dependence on fossil fuels from Russia. That can be the impetus for a move toward greater climate and geopolitical security, says Sherri Goodman.

Deutschland | Greenpeace Ukraine Protest auf der Ostsee
Image: Frank Molter/dpa/picture alliance

Sheltering from air raid sirens in Kyiv last month, Ukrainian meteorologist Svitlana Krakovska said what we all know: climate change and the war on Ukraine are both rooted in fossil fuels, and our dependence on them.

This conflict is hastening a difficult but crucial transition for Germany. In recent years, it has made significant strides in recognizing climate's links with national security. This alone has not yet freed the country from the tether of Russian oil and gas.   

The shocking force of Russia's invasion, financed by its grip on the world fossil fuel market, shows that Germany's national security depends on securing energy resilience and greater independence. That German officials already understand this connection is reflected in the remarkable decision to increase the German defense budget in response to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Greater energy resilience and independence can only happen by relying less on fossil fuels and the volatile global markets they are traded in. 

While economic sanctions aim to curtail Russia, in truth German officials estimate that it may take until 2024 to fully end reliance on Russian natural gas, implying that European nations are still equipping Putin with the treasure he needs to wage war in Ukraine. Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas producer, is Europe's largest gas supplier and reported record earnings last year. 

Sherri Goodman
Sherri GoodmanImage: European Climate Foundation

Russia's oil revenues are even bigger. Research from the think tank Transport & Environment shows that Europe's dependence on Russian oil puts $285 million (€264 million) a day in Putin's pocket. As Europe's single biggest importer of Russian oil, Germany is responsible for $65 million a day. 

A myriad threat

Stopping this flow of cash would create seismic problems for Putin's Russia, and would add to the impact of the US's Russian oil embargo. But Germany's dependence on Russian fossil fuels is the greatest in Europe. Serious questions about how Germany would cope without Russian energy ties its hands from applying the ultimate sanction. 

It reminds us that fossil fuel overdependence is a threat multiplier: it means that war threatens Germany's energy security, triggering an imminent cost of living crisis for Germans, and doubts about the country's long-term prosperity. At the same time, Germany's dependence on Russian fossil fuels is like a fire accelerant to the war in Ukraine and makes it more difficult to stop. 

The smart security move is a rapid growth of renewables and other technologies that will reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas. Of course, Germany and other countries in Europe have a very near-term need to replace Russian gas with more reliable suppliers to meet immediate energy needs. The US is stepping up, with its recent commitment to help the EU diversify gas supplies in alignment with climate objectives and reducing demand for natural gas overall.  But this short-term supply solution should not be allowed to shape the future.

A chart showing German coal imports

Immediate reductions in gas demand through energy efficiency, as well as moving decidedly away from fossil fuels, must be the priority. This approach will also help avoid catastrophic risk scenarios from climate change, from the flooding that has already cost many German lives to the heat waves that have hit the continent in recent years. Now we must come to the realization that even in places where climate change has not caused conflicts directly, it can accelerate the kinds of social, political and economic tensions that lead to humanitarian disasters and state instability.

The EU Commission has already announced plans to cut Russian gas imports by two thirds this year, while rapidly scaling up renewables, clean energy innovation, and energy efficiency measures. 

Think and act green

As more countries realize this, it looks likely the EU Green Deal will grow in strength, reaping support from military voices and climate advocates. The International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS) has recognized the central role of the Green Deal in driving international energy diplomacy, while also encouraging the EU to take a more integrated climate security approach. The interplay of development, diplomacy and defense efforts, flanked by climate finance, is seen as a crucial factor for enabling stability and peace in vulnerable regions. 

Germany has made a good start in its journey towards decarbonizing its energy use and sources. Finance Minister Christian Lindner's announcement that "green energy is freedom energy," and an unprecedented €100 billion ($107 billion) security and defense investment alongside a €90 billion climate booster on top of the existing €110 billion climate protection budget, are positive signs.

The next step in protecting Germany's security interests is an all-hands-on-deck approach to the clean energy transition because it's the only way to guarantee Germany's energy security, protect the country's interests and accelerate innovation in microgrids, better batteries, and more. 

A chart showing German natural gas imports

All hands-on-deck approach

Even when Germany is powered by clean energy, it will still rely on finite commodities like rare earths, a small but vital component of renewable energy technology like solar cells. Learning from this crisis means looking carefully at how conflict and trade disruption could threaten the supply chains we rely on for energy and reducing reliance on malign actors for their source. 

Transatlantic cooperation will be critical. As it pursues decarbonized energy, Germany will need the US to join it in boosting innovation in renewable energy. US-led investments in clean energy, and a majority for an approved national plan, will provide the market certainty needed to scale up wind and solar energy and green hydrogen technology. And as NATO develops its latest assessment of the security environment and plans its response, the alliance will need to consider the role of decarbonized energy and emission cuts as a powerful lever for global security. 

War in Ukraine is a humanitarian disaster, and a frightening display of the threat Putin's Russia poses to the rest of the world. It's a wake-up call that shows Europe what it needs to do to both enable a climate-secure future and a more secure Europe. If the governing coalition responds decisively to end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels, it could also be the catalyst for a safer and more climate-secure Germany.

Sherri Goodman is Senior Strategist and Advisory Board member at the Center for Climate and Security, Chair of the Board at the Council on Strategic Risks and Secretary General of the International Military Council on Climate and Security. She's Senior Fellow at the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute and Environmental Change & Security Program. She served as the first US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security) from 1993-2001.

Edited by: Rob Mudge