The climate summit goes over, but the fight against the climate crisis is only just beginning for the coming federal government. Timon Dzienus, chairman of the Green Youth, and Nemir Ali, vice-chief of the Young Liberals, have very different views of the traffic light’s climate in the discussion on ntv.de. Both know each other from the joint commitment of their state youth parties against the Lower Saxony police law. Both agree that the upcoming government must pursue the 1.5 degree target. But unlike the young liberal Ali, the Green Dzienus is concerned about whether all parties feel the same urgency.
ntv.de: Divided as a percentage, how much of your attention is currently focusing on the coalition negotiations in Berlin and how much is the climate summit in Glasgow?
Timon Dzienus: I would say 90 to 10 in favor of the negotiations. Through our office we are of course involved in the coalition negotiations, even if we do not negotiate directly. But I think it’s a shame that there is relatively little coverage of Glasgow. After all, some of the decisions are far-reaching for the next few years.
Nemir Ali: It looks similar with us young liberals. In addition to the coalition negotiations, the JuLi Federal Congress will take place this coming weekend, which has been present again for the first time in two years.
The FDP and the Greens were the strongest force among the young voters. Are young people as interested in climate policy as is often claimed with a view to the Fridays for Future protests?
Ali: I do believe that young people are very interested in climate issues. And not only those who voted for the Greens, but also those who voted for the Free Democrats, because we too have presented a climate protection program. But of course there are also many other topics that are important to young people, from digitization and old-age provision to dealing with young people in the Corona crisis.
Dzienus: Climate policy is the central question for the future. Only if we manage to reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as possible will we be able to meet climate targets. When I hear the interim results from the coalition negotiations, I have the impression that not all negotiators in the FDP and SPD are aware of the seriousness of the crisis. That gives me a stomach ache, also with a view to the next few years.
Ali: We and the SPD are aware of the seriousness of the situation. But we have different ideas about the means to fight the climate crisis. I really believe that the Greens want to fight the climate crisis. I would be happy if it was mutual.
We also see only limited interest in the climate summit from our readers. In the Bundestag election, it was evidently not the only decisive issue for the voters either. Against this background, shouldn’t the traffic light government treat climate as one of several priorities?
Dzienus: Pretending that climate protection is one of many topics is a big problem. The Federal Constitutional Court and the Paris Climate Agreement give us the 1.5 degree target. Achieving this would only work with a 1: 1 implementation of the Greens election program if it is also accompanied by an ambitious international climate policy. When I see how the FDP and SPD try to negotiate the Greens down, as if every bit of climate protection is a compromise to the Greens, it irritates me. We have international obligations and a constitutional court ruling that we have to comply with.
Ali: The 1.5 degree target is not negotiable, but the ways to get there are. We are proposing a European greenhouse gas limit that sets an upper limit for all remaining emissions that may still be emitted while adhering to the 1.5 degree target. The FDP climate protection program is even more ambitious than that of the Greens.
Dzienus: That’s not true. There is still a lack of concrete measures to achieve the agreed goal. If you reject options like the speed limit, which would have saved 2 million tons of CO2 per year, you have to tighten other measures. That could be, for example, the accelerated phase-out of coal, agriculture or energetic renovation, where you have to make faster progress. What is in the exploratory paper is not enough.
Isn’t that also an ideological problem? Above all, the FDP wants to relieve the economy and set incentives for technical and entrepreneurial innovations through a higher CO2 price. The Greens seem to be lacking this optimism?
Dzienus: To me, relying on innovations sounds like the house is on fire, the fire brigade knows what to do, but they are not allowed to start because they have to wait for new technologies. We can now extinguish it by expanding renewable energies very quickly and by then taking coal off the grid piece by piece. I believe that the innovation debate is a distraction so that we don’t have to act quickly now.
Ali: I have to disagree. We don’t just focus on innovation, we want to set a regulatory framework. The CO2 ceiling is a concrete measure that brings savings every year. They then happen where it is most economically efficient. This is how we achieve our goals in a socially responsible manner. But yes, it is true that we still need technical innovations in some areas such as industry, agriculture and aviation. There are concepts for hydrogen as an energy carrier or for e-drives, but we are still at the beginning.
Energy prices are currently skyrocketing for various reasons. Could the approach of your two parties to control the consumption of fossil fuels with a higher CO2 price spoil the enthusiasm for climate protection among the financially burdened citizens?
Dzienus: Climate protection only works with people and if their needs are met. We want to improve people’s lives with climate protection. This can be broken down into many areas, for example in traffic. 55 million people do not have reasonable access to buses and trains. Changing that makes people – especially in rural areas – more mobile and helps the climate. This also applies to the CO2 price: we need a higher CO2 price, but we also need social compensation, for example green energy money. The Greens and the FDP are not that far apart.
Ali: Exactly. We call this the climate dividend. What the state receives through CO2 pricing is given back to the citizens in order to avoid social hardship. It is also important to maintain the commuter allowance, from which people who travel to work by bus and train also benefit. This public transport must of course be expanded so that it becomes a real alternative. Just saying ‘the car is bad’ is not enough.
Dzienus: But you can also cut CO2 emissions and even save money elsewhere, namely when building new highways. In Lower Saxony this is the extension of the A20, the largest motorway project in Germany at 120 kilometers. For this purpose, surfaces are sealed and the environment destroyed. The cost explosions in planned new motorway construction projects and the additional environmental and climate damage show that these projects are neither economical nor compatible with climate targets. Existing roads should of course continue to be maintained, but the money for new roads should instead flow into the railways.
Ali: I think it’s wrong to do without new highways altogether, even though they make sense for economic, transport and in some cases environmental considerations – such as reducing traffic jams and stop-and-go traffic. Especially since these savings are only short-term. In the long term, climate-neutral vehicles should be on the road.
Another control instrument are taxes and levies, where the traffic light could reduce numerous environmentally harmful subsidies.
Ali: I find it difficult to use the term subsidy. If you get rid of them, they are de facto tax increases. And you have to look at who is being burdened. Not even the Greens want to abolish all environmentally harmful subsidies. Social housing also appears on this list from the Federal Environment Agency.
Dzienus: Yes, you have to see who benefits from it. But we have to get hold of the environmentally harmful subsidies. We also have to further develop the commuter allowance, which low incomes currently have nothing from. The goal is that people shouldn’t be burdened more, but should have strong shoulders.
What could binding touchstones for reaching the climate targets in the traffic light look like?
Ali: I would say that cross-sectoral climate targets definitely make more sense than sector-specific ones. If we want to make progress in the area of housing, we have to invest billions in climate-friendly renovations. That has to be the case to a certain extent. At a certain point, however, it can make more sense to produce additional renewable energies instead of continuously increasing building efficiency. Sector specificity can thus become an obstacle.
Dzienus: Total agreement, but it must be stated that all sectors have failed to achieve their goals and all sectors still have to deliver really strong. Within the coalition, the understanding must prevail that everyone is responsible for climate protection. Climate protection is not the only project of the Greens.
How binding is the goal of an eight-year early coal phase-out?
Dzienus: The coal phase-out must come in 2030. The security of supply will then be given. We have to start taking dirty coal-fired power plants off the grid as early as possible, and the faster we expand the renewables, the better we can do that.
Ali: If we increase the price of CO2 accordingly, it will no longer be economical to generate electricity from coal beyond 2030. But then we also have to accelerate the planning process for the expansion of renewables so that we have security of supply. We have to see where we can reduce bureaucracy.
To the disappointment of the SPD and the Greens, however, the FDP is resisting larger borrowings that could flow into the expansion of the power grid and the industrial transformation. Doesn’t a possible Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner have to rethink this?
Ali: The debt brake is partly responsible for the fact that Germany was able to launch such an investment package at the beginning of the corona pandemic in order to cushion the crisis economically and socially. At the same time, Germany was able to take on responsibility in other European countries, which would have found investment programs more difficult because of their high debt levels. A solid budget policy in non-crisis times only makes it possible to make investments in times of crisis, as the debt brake allows. It is also dangerous to believe that the low interest rate environment will last forever.
Dzienus: The Green Youth’s criticism of the debt brake is well known. The worst thing we can leave our children with is a burning planet that can no longer be lived. That is why it is necessary to take money in hand now in order to invest it in the future.
Ali: The money is there. The problem with countless public spending programs is that the funds are not called because the bureaucracy and the planning procedures are too complex. In addition, there is large amounts of private capital that we can and must mobilize. Incidentally, it is also private individuals who damage the climate. In this respect, I would think it would be wrong if the private sector were to get money from the state for the transformation now, if they themselves have money that they have earned with climate-damaging behavior.
The conversation with Nemir Ali and Timon Dzienus was conducted by Sebastian Huld