Germany can do more — and better — for the environment and the world's poor

By Erik Solheim 27 November 2015

The Burgweisach solar farm in Germany. The country’s renewable energy sector is among the most innovative and successful worldwide. Photo by: Mark Mühlhaus / Windwärts Energie GmbH / CC BY-NC-ND

“Energiewende,” the transformation of the energy system in Europe’s leading industrial power has made Germany a global leader in renewables and energy efficiency. Can Germany take this to the global stage — forging an international energiewende?

The progress in human development over recent decades has been unprecedented in history. The world is more peaceful and people are in general richer, healthier and better educated than ever before. But the state of Mother Earth is not so equally positive. Plants and animals are being driven to extinction at a rate not seen since the age of the dinosaurs, and the planet is getting warmer.

Every country cannot do everything. But all can do something. In the latest peer review from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on its development aid, Germany is both applauded and criticized. The country is an international leader on development: Along with the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. It is one of the biggest bilateral donors, contributing with an all-time high of more than $16 billion. For the climate and for the poor people of the world, it is important how Germany decides to spend its aid money.

The world just recently agreed on the 17 United Nations global goals that apply to both rich and poor countries. Germany can do many things, but based on the peer review let me set out two main challenges:

Sharing expertise

First, Germany should share the technology and political experiences from green energy and green policies more widely. Led by green political leaders and pushed by strong civil society organizations, hardly any nation has made more deliberate decisions to protect the environment.

More than 1.3 billion people globally have no access to electricity today. And 2.6 billion depend on dirty biofuels for cooking. Without energy you cannot develop. Germany’s renewable energy sector is among the most innovative and successful worldwide. The increase in wind, biogas and solar energy in recent years is impressive. Germany’s energy transition shows how brave policy makers can make both good choices for the environment, but at the same time also for the economy. The renewable energy sector is a big employer. Is it possible to share Germany’s experiences from home more widely with the world?

I applaud Germany for its commitment and innovative approaches to finance action on climate change. Green energy investments in developing countries are faced with a big shortfall that can only be covered by private capital flows. Germany is already a leader in using its development assistance to mobilize private resources. Can this be put to even better use in helping people to have access to clean energy?

Strong leadership

Second, Germany is at the forefront of using public development finance to leverage investment from the private sector for sustainable development. The review applauds Germany for its focus on quality partnerships with the humanitarian community, and to target areas where Germany can clearly add value.

For example, Germany combined its funding for Syria by hosting the Berlin Conference on the Syrian Refugee Situation, which looked at how the international community can support the refugees and neighboring countries in a better and more sustainable way. And Germany also leads by example with innovative approaches such as the partnership for sustainable textiles, launched in 2014 after the tragedies in Bangladesh.

Germany should take its positive experience from development banks such as KfW and other instruments for mobilizing private investment, to the global scene. Leadership, not money, is what is in short supply in the world. Germany can clearly lead on private investment for poverty reduction and sustainability.

Still, for the world to reach the first U.N. global goal of eradicating extreme poverty, it is important that rich countries mobilize more and better resources, both aid, investment and taxes. The peer review concludes that at 0.4 percent of its gross national income, Germany is below the agreed spending target of 0.7 for the purpose of development. If the U.K. can achieve this goal, clearly Germany can do the same. It should set a trajectory for gradual increase to fulfill its commitment.

At the same time Germany should also increase the share of its development assistance spent in the least developed countries. More aid to the poorest nations and specific policies targeting the most vulnerable groups will be required to end poverty and hunger by 2030, as promised. Extremely poor people will increasingly live in fragile states and countries in conflict. If rich countries don’t contribute to reducing the gap in living conditions in the world and making and keeping peace, we will see more refugees and migrants coming to Europe.

Ending poverty and greening the planet is possible. We just need to go ahead and do it. Aid is one important tool for achieving these goals. Germany is doing well and that is exactly why it should do even more. More and better aid to the poorest nations — to countries in conflict and to prevent environmental destruction — is important for making the world a better place for everyone. Germany can do more, and thus also inspire others to step up!

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About the author

Erik solheim profile
Erik Solheim

Erik Solheim is chair of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee since January 2013, and incoming executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. With a solid background in climate, the environment and peace building, Solheim was also Norway’s minister for international development from 2005 to 2012.


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