“Greater importance”

Since 2016 an exhibition has been travelling the world informing people about “The German Energiewende – Transforming Germany’s Energy System”. What subjects does it cover and how has it been received? An interview with Ernst Peter Fischer, Deputy Director General for Energy & Climate Policy and Export Control.

Energiewende Haus mit Solardach
Energiewende Haus mit Solardach dpa

Mr Fischer, since April 2016 a travelling exhibition has been informing people around the world about “The German Energiewende”. What does it offer visitors?

Our travelling exhibition takes visitors on a journey through time. The interactive show explains how energy policy in Germany and worldwide has developed from the 1970s to the present day. With it we would like to show that the Energiewende is not something that has arisen overnight. And it involves more than just the nuclear phase-out, renewable energies and energy efficiency. It is the complete transformation of the energy system as we know it.

Films, texts and diagrams enable visitors to find out in an easily understandable way how and why the energy transformation is being carried out. We answer frequently asked questions and respond to common misunderstandings. Visitors can test their knowledge at a quiz table in the middle of the exhibition.

Ernst Peter Fischer

Where has the exhibition already been shown and what has the response been so far?

So far we have presented the six exhibition sets at just under 40 locations in 18 countries and in the process reached several tens of thousands of visitors. We have been excited by the feedback: over four fifths of the visitors surveyed gave the exhibition a positive evaluation. Furthermore, the exhibition initiated fascinating discussions on sustainable energy policy in many places.

Since the end of April it has also been possible to visit the exhibition worldwide in eight different languages on its own website at www.energiewende-global.com. This opportunity has so far been taken up by people from 60 countries, and the number is increasing.

Since US President Trump announced the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement many people are wondering what will happen next with regard to sustainability and climate protection. Is there still any point in promoting an energy transformation?

Definitely! The transition to a sustainable energy system has gained great momentum in recent years and can no longer be stopped. It can only be delayed, but that would be terrible, because we must succeed in switching to a climate-friendly system by 2050 if we really want to prevent very dangerous climate change. In other words, we cannot afford delays. Fortunately, continuously falling costs mean it has now become perfectly normal for many companies, municipalities and regional policymakers to invest in renewable energies. We want to enter into dialogue with them and encourage them.

Actually, the position is clear: with the Energiewende, Germany wants to achieve the transition to a sustainable energy system based on energy efficiency and renewable energies. Questions are raised about this in many countries. Which do you hear most often and what are your answers?

At the top of the list comes the question about costs. Many people think an energy transformation is a luxury that only rich countries can afford. The opposite is the case: because the technologies have advanced considerably in recent years, developing sustainable energy sources is usually cheaper today than developing fossil-based ones. Furthermore, the energy transition is creating new economic sectors that generate investment and high-quality jobs.

We are often also asked why Germany wants to phase out nuclear energy although it does not emit greenhouse gases. Here, too, the view is primarily an economic one: generating electricity with nuclear energy is more expensive today than many other energy sources – especially when you also take into account the costs for the security and decommissioning of nuclear power plants. Moreover, there is a broad consensus among the German population that nuclear energy is bound up with incalculable risks. Our population does not want to accept these. This is also because no answer has yet been found to the question of how to store radioactive nuclear waste safely for millions of years.

Germany is depending on sustainability in its energy supply – that’s a good thing. But shouldn’t every country be able to decide for itself how it organises its energy supply?

Yes, of course, every country decides for itself. We do not say that all countries should do exactly the same as Germany. Every country has its own conditions – there is not ONE solution in energy policy. However, all the world’s countries have committed themselves to climate protection. This shared responsibility for our planet and coming generations is undisputed. And people all over the world recognise a fundamental challenge: the energy system must be simultaneously safe, affordable and sustainable. With the Energiewende, we are offering an example and ideas on how this knot can be undone.

The exhibition will also be on shown during COP23 in Bonn at the beginning of November. What else is Germany planning for the world climate conference?

First and foremost, we want to be a good host to the world together with Fiji. The COP will advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. In brief, the focus will be on completing the rulebook for global climate protection. In addition, as in previous years, the COP will provide an opportunity for different actors in politics, business, research and civil society to meet with one another and present climate protection initiatives and projects. Different federal ministries will naturally also take part. On the part of the Federal Foreign Office, we will certainly present the subject of Climate & Security at the COP, for example within the framework of a side event. Today we diplomats can already see that climate change is increasing instability in many countries and constitutes a threat to stability and peace, which is why this subject is so important. As paradoxical as it may seem, generally COP 23 will acquire greater political significance and attract more media attention as a result of the climate policy of the new US Administration. We will therefore use the conference to maintain the momentum gained in Paris and to underline the economic opportunities that will accompany an ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement.

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