In view of the dramatically rising costs of fossil fuels, those countries that are not completely dependent on their purchase can count themselves lucky. Be it because, like France, they have been relying on nuclear energy since the oil price shock of the 1970s, or because they are developing their own sources using fracking, like the USA – or because they are completing the transition to renewable energies.
The latter, as firmly promised by international agreements, remains a pipe dream. The turnaround requires a complex infrastructure and is more complicated than buying seemingly unlimited fossil energy on the world market.
Shouldn’t the current cost explosion accelerate the farewell to the greenhouse economy? Why is it even more important to focus on gas imports and coal production?
That’s what an international team led by energy policy expert Jonas Meckling from the University of California at Berkeley tried to answer. Environmental and political science experts cite two reasons why countries are coping so differently with the energy transition.
They call one factor “insulation” in English, which would be translated too roughly with isolation. What is meant is a certain isolation and autonomy of important environmental institutions from day-to-day politics. Japan and France, for example, reacted to the oil crisis of the 1970s by setting up powerful bureaucracies, which gave the respective governments a relatively free hand in energy issues.
In the federal USA, California transferred its energy transition to an independent government agency and has since stood out from the other states with its progressive environmental policy.
Emerging countries in particular benefit from autonomous development authorities. An extreme case is China, which hardly needs to consider local objections when it comes to the massive expansion of solar systems and wind farms.
A total isolation of politics is of course risky. The most chilling historical example of a campaign without informational feedback is China’s “Great Leap Forward” around 1960. It ended with millions dying of starvation – not least because the lower party cadres, not to mention the rest of the population, balked after the looming catastrophe to report above.
The authors of the study call “compensation” a second factor that promotes the energy transition: companies and consumers need compensation for the costs and efforts that the change entails.
This works best where trade unions and business associations have long been used to negotiating compensation payments and where the state is expected to cushion social hardship. Therefore, according to the findings of the study, it is no coincidence that the Scandinavian countries as well as the Netherlands and Germany are not only welfare states, but also pioneers in measures against climate change.
For the same reason, the US and Australia are lagging behind in the transition to renewable energy. A weak government sector and meager social services go hand in hand with stagnant change.
In addition, there is a problem not only with compensation, but also with the autonomy of environmental policy. As soon as a new government tries out cautious approaches to the energy transition, the next one tramples on the tender little plant again.
According to the criteria of the study cited, Germany has comparatively good chances of driving the energy transition forward quickly – and there are excellent reasons anyway.
The original of this article “Germany’s chances for a rapid energy transition are surprisingly good” comes from Spektrum.de.