The role of government and civil society in combating climate change
The Executive Director of the Climate Alliance Germany talks about the role of governments, the civil society, and other stakeholders, to combat climate change in Germany and abroad.
Christiane Averbeck is Executive Director of the Climate Alliance Germany, the broad civil society alliance for climate protection in Germany. Previously, Dr. Averbeck worked in development cooperation projects in Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe, conducted research about pollution in the North Sea, supported the Federal Government’s Council for Sustainable Development and engaged in a training program called Education for Sustainable Development.
Hello Christiane, and thank you for taking some time to answer to The Beam today. First and for all, what is your story? Where do you come from?
My story already started in my childhood. I’m a farmer’s daughter and, as you can imagine, farmers depend on climate; they depend on the proper amount of rain at the right time. At home, we discussed the weather a lot. As you know, climate has a big influence on food production and therefore people who live in the countryside. So I basically grew up discussing climate change at the kitchen table. I studied ecology because I wanted to contribute to nature conservation and environmental protection. After working in the development field in Africa for 16 years, I was asked whether I would be interested in being the head of Climate Alliance Germany. They were especially interested in this link in my biography between development aid and environmental conservation.
What are the main missions of Climate Alliance Germany?
We work to put climate change on the political agenda, especially in Berlin. Our focus are the national policies of climate protection in Germany. That means that our main target groups are the government, ministries, and politicians of all parties. Our main political demands, just to name a few, are the implementation of a climate protection law that defines a path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% until 2050, a socially just coal phase-out as part of the Energiewende, a turnaround in transport and agriculture and a critical re-examination of the Climate Action Programme 2020. We need to make sure to adapt our measurements if we still want to reach the set goal of reducing our emissions by 40% until 2020.
Climate Alliance Germany works on behalf of its 113 member organisations such as MISEREOR, WWF, Bread for the World, and Friends of the Earth. We have environmental and development organisations, churches, a trade union, consumer organisations and many more.
Why is it so important to include so many different actors in fighting climate change? What does this bring to your organisation?
It all started ten years ago when the environmental organisations realised that it was not enough anymore that they tackle the issue of climate change; there was a need for a broad societal alliance and the activities of different stakeholders in order to fight climate change. We are happy that 10 years ago the churches, whose interest is the preservation of God’s creation, and for example our trade union, who acts more for the social aspects of climate change, felt that it was necessary to join forces and combat climate change together.
Do you work closely with the German government? How does the cooperation work?
“Working” together doesn’t really reflect our cooperation. The German Government invited us to a participatory process in order to work out the Climate Action Plan 2050 where we were allowed — and I say allowed because something like this never happened before — to share our ideas with other stakeholders and to come up with a participatory developed plan. That was an example of the German government and Climate Alliance Germany working together.
But most of the time, we develop our demands, what we expect the government to do to combat climate change, and then we discuss them in parliamentary breakfasts and during discussions like our “Berliner Klimagespräche” (Berlin climate talks), when we invite politicians and relevant stakeholders to discuss issues such as the coal phase out or the link between meat consumption and climate change.
The European countries have committed to reducing greenhouse gases in Europe by 20% by 2020. Do you think it’s a reasonable target? Is it enough and is it realistic?
We all know that more is possible and that this 20% goal is not ambitious at all. We are going to outdo ourselves here, we easily could have set a more ambitious reduction goal. By all means, in Germany we will do more than this. So I don’t think that this is enough, but unfortunately it seems absolutely realistic in the face of some European countries that are not willing to do more.
That said, do you think the German government does enough to reach the target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 (compared to 1990)? What are your recommendations?
At the moment, although I would like it to be more ambitious, we can be happy if we reach the 40% goal at all. We are currently having discussions with the German government about if they think we’ll reach this reduction goal if we keep on going the way we are. In our view, the measurements that are currently on the agenda are not sufficient. That’s why our recommendation is clearly the phase out of old coal power plants. We argue that they are not profitable anyway. There is no other solution at the moment.
What do you think of governments supporting the construction of new coal power stations?
As I understand, this is not happening at the moment in Germany. That was actually one big success we achieved by an anti-coal campaign. Ten years ago, the German energy corporations planned to build 30 new coal power plants. But the protests were too big: Citizens’ initiatives and associations took legal action against those plans, uncovered mistakes in the licensing procedure and demonstrated dangers for health and environment. They turned to mayors and municipal services in order to dry out the financial sources. The Climate Alliance Germany joined forces of associations and initiatives in our campaigning office. In the end, hardly any new coal power plants were built. No one even considers building one today.
How important is the role of the civil society in Germany and abroad in terms of fighting climate change?
Our civil society is very vibrant and vocal. If we don’t want to allow the industry and companies to dominate our climate policies, because then they will never ever be as ambitious, there is no doubt, we need civil society action. I think that civil society focuses on the interest not only of the citizens of Germany but also abroad and worldwide. If you have a look at the Paris Agreement, I am sure that it became a success also because of the influence and mobilisation of civil society activists. To us, this international cooperation is very important. We work together with many groups, not only in Germany. With the Climate Action Network (CAN), CAN Europe, and CAN International for example, we strategize together and try to influence politicians all over the world. Climate change is a worldwide challenge and therefore we have to work in a worldwide network to solve the problems.
What are the main challenges for organisations like yours today?
The members of Climate Alliance Germany have realised that climate change is the challenge we have to face, but there are still different approaches on how to deal with it. Sometimes, it is not that easy to find the right strategy on how to go about it or on how to approach politicians. There are different views and we always have to make sure that we find a common ground. That is the first challenge. But I have to say that there is a lot of positive energy towards the will to find a common solution.
The second challenge is with politicians. They are willing to listen to us, but the representatives of energy companies and of different industries are much more powerful with their political lobbying in Berlin. They have more resources, they have more man or woman power than we have. Of course, they are trying to influence politics, too, and they can use mass media campaigns to influence not only politicians but also the people. These are approaches we cannot afford, therefore we have to find other ways to gain the ear of a politician.
Can you tell us about the present and future projects, research and actions of Climate Alliance Germany?
This year, we have the Bundestag election which is very important to us. Until September and beyond we are in discussions with representatives of the political parties. We want to make sure that we find our demands and expectations in the coalition agreement afterwards. Therefore, we are organising many meetings and discussions with politicians at the moment.
The next step is the COP23, the UNFCCC conference on climate change in November. It is taking place in Bonn this year and Germany is preparing it together with the Republic of Fiji. We support the civil society of Fiji and mobilise climate justice activists, we organise a People’s Climate Summit in Bonn together with other organisations and foundations. It is going to be a side event, a conference where people who are not part of the official consultations can also participate and discuss climate related issues. And by all means, we would like to show the world that we actually have a huge coal mining area not that far away from Bonn, where villages are still being destroyed. People are losing their homes there, although it is obvious that through the demands of the Paris Agreement, coal mining will soon end, even in that area. To draw the conference attendees’ attention to this, we prospectively will organise what we call a red line demonstration, a human chain to connect the conference in Bonn with the coal mining grounds.
Thanks so much for your time and insights. Is there anything you’d like to add?
In the years to come, we are very sure that we have to concentrate on how Germany will fulfil its intended contributions. This is how we want to work together also with the government. We hope that they will develop a participatory process where we, together with other stakeholders, can make sure that what we promised to do to combat climate change until 2050, will take place by all means.
Interview by Anne-Sophie Garrigou