Every country likes to think that they are the “world leaders” in some field, whether it’s trade, gay rights, or even fruit production. Environmental policy is no exception; when it comes to climate change, many countries claim to be the world leaders. Yet for the majority of these countries, environmental policy is all talk and no action.
Germany, however, has effectively revolutionized its energy use and its economy in just a decade and a half. In fact, they even have a word for their growing environmental consciousness and policy–“Energiewende“. This word has spearheaded the German drive to create more sustainable energy solutions, revise their climate law, and enact earth-friendly corporate policy.
Energiewende was first coined in a 1980 publication on renewable energy, but it didn’t take its modern form until 2002 when the definition expanded to include a complete abandonment of petroleum and nuclear power. That’s truly the end goal of the Energiewende–a complete reliance on renewable sources. For this reason, many English speakers translate it to “energy revolution”.
Of course, the environmental policy has other goals that it’s charting along the way, like carbon emission reductions, reduced energy consumption, and renewable energy efficiency. But at the core of Energiewende is a drive to kick fossil fuels and nuclear reactors out of Germany entirely. No other nation has taken on such an illustrious goal.
Perhaps the most stunning thing about Energiewende is its results. Not only has public policy changed significantly in Germany, but corporations and individuals have had a personal change of heart. This trifecta of governmental policy, corporate responsibility, and individual action has created stunning results for the Energiewende program.
In 2014, carbon emissions were down 27% from when the program started. The ultimate goal is to have 90% less carbon emissions by 2050, and the statistics show that Germany is on-track to meet that midcentury goal. In 1990, renewable energy accounted for less than 20 billion KWh of Germany’s energy; today, that number has risen to almost 200 billion KWh, ten times as much, with both nuclear and petroleum taking significant hits.
If the current success of the program continues, it’s quite likely that Germany will soon hit its goal of solely renewable energy. This development will greatly reduce carbon emissions
While Energiewende has certainly had powerful effects on a national level, it’s also an important example to other nations that unified, effective environmental policy is possible. Countries like the United States and Russia have a few lessons to learn from Germany’s success. First and foremost, environmental policy and economic gain aren’t mutually exclusive. Germany’s economy hasn’t suffered a large blow due to renewable energy, and it has still remained a world leader.
And secondly, cooperation between the state, corporations, and individuals is necessary for any effective environmental policy. Without Energiewende‘s focus on educating citizens and corporations, their government measures would have lacked public support and been less effective overall. And no matter how much the public supported renewable energy, change wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of both business and government. When all three parties get involved in creating change, that’s when the policy matches up with the economics and everyone is satisfied.
So to all those countries who claim to be the world leaders on climate change, Germany takes the cake this time. But if every country worked at Germany’s rate of change, we would all become equally as successful in less than 20 years. Now that’s a goal to aspire towards.