Ms. Morgan, are you a “green bubble activist” who is now “making big money” in government?
The only thing that’s true about that statement is that I still see myself as an activist—now I’m an activist diplomat. I am still committed to climate protection and climate justice with all my might and energy, but in my current position I naturally have completely different opportunities to advance these issues.
That’s what CSU politician Markus Blume tweeted when it became known that you, as the previous Greenpeace boss, were to become the Federal Republic’s first climate commissioner.
Today it should be clear to everyone: climate policy is no longer a niche topic, but concerns us all. We are pursuing an ambitious climate policy for our future and – which we have been painfully aware of since February 24 at the latest – also for our independence and freedom.
I work in the Federal Foreign Office because climate policy is an absolute priority for this government and Germany has a foreign minister with a vision for the future who understands exactly what is at stake. I accepted the task because I am convinced that I can make a difference here with my knowledge and my skills.
Are you a member of the Greens?
No, I do not belong to any political party.
How did Annalena Baerbock find out about her?
We first met a few years ago at a climate conference and then again at a climate demonstration in Berlin. After that we met again and again, discussed and exchanged ideas. I was very happy at Greenpeace and didn’t expect something like this to happen.
But she knew me and my work and had the idea of bringing me to the Federal Foreign Office because after the change of government international climate policy was settled here. She just called me and asked if I was willing to do the job.
What’s it like to be on the other side now?
I don’t feel like I’m on the other side. I think this division into different sides is wrong. Today, climate activists or climate experts are involved everywhere in our society, in companies, in NGOs, in governments. My function has changed, but I am still on the same side, namely that of climate protection and climate justice.
But now you have to make compromises, especially with the FDP.
Of course there are challenges when you are in a coalition with several partners. It is part of democracy that a coalition must unite different positions and agree on common priorities. But you only have to read the coalition agreement to see: the climate policy ambitions and goals of this government are unprecedented. As a team, we now have the chance to make Germany the climate world champion together.
Climate protection was actually at the top of the agenda, then the war came. As awful as it all is, is there a chance that things will change faster than expected?
The Russian war of aggression has shown us in a terrible way that we have to make ourselves independent of fossil energy imports. Germany and the EU are already taking ambitious steps in this direction and together we are now driving the energy transition even faster.
But this development is not limited to Europe. The war of aggression was and is effectively a disruption with global implications. The group of the most important industrialized countries – the G7 – and many emerging countries also want to get away from oil, coal and gas more quickly.
But isn’t there a risk of a zero-sum game, which we have often seen in climate policy? The EU wants to become independent of Russian oil, but then India and China buy it and in the end you have the same CO2 emissions…
There is no simple black or white. The right energy policy is also being discussed in these states, and of course there are certain forces of inertia everywhere. At the same time, more and more decision-makers are realizing that investing in renewable energies and moving away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible is not only in the interest of their country in terms of climate policy, but also in terms of economic and security policy.
We are conducting a lot of talks and persuading people in this direction. Is it difficult? Yes absolutely. But I am optimistic because we have the better arguments on our side and can also appeal to these countries’ self-interest.
Can you explain that to us with an example?
Think of India. The country now wants to buy Russian oil, at the same time Germany is supporting India in expanding renewable energies and we are having a lot of talks. India will not phase out fossil fuels completely from one day to the next. But the government has recognized the potential and the enormous opportunities and is building huge solar projects. We are committed to accelerating this change.
How is cooperation in climate policy changing as a result of Russia’s war? Unanimity is required at climate summits, but Russia could torpedo everything.
Yes, we have a consensus process. But it’s also true that even during the years that climate change denier Donald Trump was US President, countries have found a way to lead the way. The grim reality is: the world is on fire and we have no time to lose. We are therefore already working intensively on making the upcoming world climate conference in Egypt a success.
There is another problem case: China. By working with China on climate issues, aren’t you playing down the human rights violations against the Uyghurs, for which impressive documents have just been presented?
The images released this week were disturbing and further evidence that gross human rights abuses are taking place in Xinjiang. The Federal Government has condemned this in no uncertain terms and Foreign Minister Baerbock has demanded clarification from her Chinese counterpart.
We work together with China on climate protection because we cannot win the fight against the climate crisis without the largest country in the world. This does not mean, however, that we will soften or even remain silent when it comes to human rights.
What instruments are there that can exert more pressure worldwide to really achieve the 1.5 degree target?
Our strongest tool is reason. When viewed rationally, we should all have an existential interest in increasing our climate ambitions. But I also support very real instruments, such as tariffs on high emissions when products are imported into the EU. If other countries refuse an ambitious climate protection policy, they have to pay. This is what the EU is planning now and I fully support it.
A weakness of the Paris Climate Agreement is that it has no enforcement mechanisms. An EU external tariff on CO2 could motivate states worldwide to do more climate protection and at the same time protect our economy.
If, for example, steel is produced in such a way that a lot of CO2 is still emitted, the product must be subject to tariffs in order to protect our industry, which relies on more expensive but climate-friendly processes, and thus to secure jobs. If other countries want to avoid punitive tariffs, then they must invest more in climate protection.
Wouldn’t the lever be stronger if the EU introduced punitive tariffs on “dirty” products together with the USA?
We work closely with the US on climate and launched a new energy and climate partnership this week. I have known climate commissioner John Kerry for decades and we only had intensive talks at the G7 meeting in Berlin this week. But we are looking for new strategic partners worldwide. Governments committed to climate protection have just been elected in Australia and Chile.
We also work with emerging countries, such as South Africa. The aim is to phase out coal more quickly and to accelerate the expansion of renewable energies.
Because you mention Chile: so far neither the chancellor nor a minister has traveled to South America. Brazil is a key country because of the Amazon rainforest. It is being cut down happily – and Germany and the EU are watching.
The deforestation and habitat destruction of tribal peoples is scandalous and we are doing everything we can to stop it. The countries in the region are important partners for the federal government, especially from a climate policy perspective. We are already having a lot of talks, visits will follow.
My previous trips have made it very clear what a great reputation and trust Germany enjoys in the climate sector. The energy transition is part of what makes Germany’s “soft power” what it is. We can use this to accelerate the global energy transition.
Well, are we really such a pioneer? Almost no country followed us when it came to phasing out nuclear power, which is one of the reasons why the phase-out of coal by 2030 is shaky, aggravated by the Russia problem.
We should not hide our light under a bushel. This federal government has undertaken the largest industrial policy transformation project in decades in order to make Germany a pioneer in climate policy and at the same time to preserve jobs and prosperity in the long term.
As a large industrialized country, we can show that it is possible to reconcile climate protection and economic growth. At the same time, we are pushing ahead with the energy transition and taking big steps to phase out fossil fuels. Other countries look at us and think: if Germany can do it, then we too will go down this path.
But Robert Habeck is now ensnaring the Emir of Qatar to get liquefied gas from the Gulf.
War presents us with difficult choices. At the moment we cannot avoid making these decisions, but they must not lead us to a dead end in terms of climate policy.
What exactly is the problem with Qatar, they want contracts that run for 20 or 30 years if possible, which is why there have hardly been any reports of implementation so far.
Our goal remains to make the gas networks climate-neutral by 2045 at the latest. That’s why we don’t rely on long-term supply contracts, we have to negotiate here. We are already thinking about the transition and are planning the new terminals in such a way that they can also accommodate green hydrogen.
So far there is no German steel or aluminum works that can do without fossil fuels. In Eisenhüttenstadt they say: With hydrogen, that won’t work.
I have a lot of conversations with companies and my impression is that they are not questioning the climate goals at all, but are rather thinking about how to achieve them through innovation.
Most companies are very aware that we are in the middle of the next great industrial revolution towards carbon neutral business. They rely on climate-neutral technologies not only because it is necessary in terms of climate policy, but out of economic self-interest. It is always better to invest in the future than in the past.
The goals are one thing, but the practical way to get there is another.
There is no question that there are major challenges and I am talking about them very specifically with the companies. Our task as government is to set the political framework, with hydrogen supply contracts, with funding programs for industry and research. The transformation is a task for society as a whole that we can only master if everyone pitches in.
All of this costs an incredible amount of money. How big is the risk that the whole thing will fail colossally because the FDP wants to comply with the debt brake again next year?
We shouldn’t just look at one year, but at the future. The investments in climate protection and in climate-neutral technologies that we are making today will pay off tomorrow in jobs, prosperity and a healthier living environment.
German budgetary law may see things differently…
We must not only focus on the costs of transformation, but also on the costs of climate change if we do nothing. Air pollution, contaminated soil, droughts, floods – all these things have enormous costs and we have to factor these into the calculation.
The science in the form of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change speaks a clear language here: we have to invest a lot now, but the returns will exceed the costs many times over.
However, the debt brake does not take into account the calculations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change…
Of course we have to set priorities. We need a debate about what prosperity means, how we measure it and how best to use the resources at our disposal to ensure that prosperity continues into the future.
You seem to think that the debt brake is a mistake, but you don’t want to say so. A climate measure that has been controversial in Germany for years is the speed limit, are you in favor of it or would you rather not risk a dispute with the FDP?
In order to reduce our need for fossil energy, everyone can already drive more slowly on the motorway – or use public transport, especially since the 9-euro ticket is coming from June. In these times, a fuel-saving commute is not only an action for climate protection, but also against President Putin.
Keyword saving fuel: In your new office you have to fly a lot yourself. Is the climate protection officer a climate-damaging office?
no I try to keep my fossil footprint as small as possible. Of course I can’t cycle to Indonesia, but I’ll cycle to the meeting of the G7 environment ministers in Berlin – as I do to many other meetings. I choose carefully. I fly to places where I can make a difference as a local person. Then I complete a very packed program to make it worthwhile.
You could also use video conferences like in Corona times.
In important negotiations, meeting in person makes a real difference because it is the only way to gain a deeper understanding of the negotiating partner. In this way, informal discussions can also be held on the sidelines, which often make the difference.
We are sitting here in a venerable hall of the Federal Foreign Office, now you are in the hamster wheel of politics, have a Sisyphus task – and have already experienced many setbacks. But the war could also mean that climate protection gets under the wheels, because the other problems are even bigger – and poor countries in particular need cheap energy.
I believe the opposite will be the case. Everyone sees it, it’s about our independence, our freedom. That sounds pathetic, but perhaps this part of the energy transition was not understood in this way before, now renewable energies are referred to as liberation energies.
Christian Lindner has the copyright on it.
Exactly. We are experiencing a historic, disruptive moment in which everyone is standing behind a common cause and we are doing everything we can to initiate a turning point in climate and energy policy.