“The government thinks too little”


The German government is unlikely to meet its climate targets. The former federal minister for the environment and nature conservation, Dr. Klaus Topfer, pleads for a slower pace in politics – and not to be oriented toward corporations.


Interviewer: The German government will most likely not achieve the climate targets it has set for itself. That's why a CO2 tax is being discussed very heatedly right now, but it remains rather doubtful that it will come. Mr. Dr. Topfer, if the government will not reach its self-set climate goals, it is then said, one still talks too much and does far too little?

Prof. Dr. Klaus Topfer (former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme and former President of the United Nations). Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety): Above all, we think too little. You can only do many things seriously in certain times and you can't go and say, we know we won't achieve this, but we'll say it as a goal for now. If such a goal is not reached, it is not only a disaster for the matter, but also for the credibility of politics as a whole. That's why I can only advise everyone: be more careful with things like this.

Simply because it is better to overachieve than to know in advance that we are setting a high target, but that is not for four years – we will have thought of something by then. I am extremely sorry about this and we see this "fetish" of goal setting over and over again. And then we'll see how it's responded to. If the goal is not reached, it is discussed again ten years later and then set higher, against the knowledge that they will not be reached. This approach is harmful.

Interviewer: Many environmental experts say that we are already running behind climate change. Many things are probably already too late.

Topfer: Of course, it must be clear that we are not arguing about the goals but about the matter at hand. And of course this has the consequence that you have to motivate citizens to participate. This is urgent. Climate change can only be shaped by the cooperation of all. Certainly, frameworks must also be set – and they must also be set in a way that does not compromise other important social justice goals.

I can't just go and make a massive increase in the price of certain energies, for example, knowing that the socially disadvantaged will never be able to achieve this, or that if they do achieve it, other things will just fall away. We have to find transitions, we have to further develop instruments that achieve the goal and at the same time guarantee social stability.

Interviewer: You talked about the social challenge that climate change brings with it. What can Christians contribute and how concrete can Christian demands be??

Topfer: We should all first get involved as citizens in a democracy. We need majorities for a demanding policy and Christians must and should participate in this, so that politics is not left to others. I would like to see – what I see as insufficient – climate policy also reinforced by the federal government and all other political institutions. To do this, you need majorities that support this out of a sense of responsibility for social development. And there the Christian must be in the lead.

Interviewer: And also take responsibility for creation. You use the term quite deliberately in this context: standing up for creation. That includes the environment.

Topfer: Yes, I am always a bit concerned when we speak of the environment in this way. I always ask myself: environment of whom?? It is man's environment. Man currently places himself outside of this creation and looks at it like this: No, we are part of it! If you look it up in the Bible, it says all creation awaits redemption. The whole creation – that is also us!

Interviewer: You have been active in politics for a long time, were yourself a federal minister for the environment and nature conservation. You know the day-to-day business of politics, also the party-political bickering and the complexities of democracy. Given that, what does make you confident that we can still get this incredible challenge of stopping climate change done??

Topfer: I am very happy if we slow down politics a bit. We need to reorient the timetable of politics again. Now it becomes more and more dependent on financial markets, on big decisions of corporations. We live in a time where short-termism prevails and that brings a lot of risks and mistakes. I prefer to be fed three times by the same discussion. In the end something good came out.

Let me give you just one example: We had enormous difficulties with waste and waste disposal back when I was in politics. No one wanted a landfill. Nobody wanted an incinerator, but we had more waste all the time. The trouble has led us to think about it and discuss it again and again. How we got to the circular economy. We said we could collect separately and then reuse some of it.

So we can let people participate in addressing the ies involved. And lo and behold, this has not been implemented perfectly, there are many needs to readjust and move forward, but it suddenly becomes apparent that this also makes economic sense. Why do you have to throw away paper? So let's make a circle out of it. The discussion, which is an irrational discussion, if you will, has led to rationally better solutions being found.

The interview was conducted by Johannes Schroer.

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