The climate crisis is happening and changing this planet with its very consequences. This has been already clearly stated with the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One of Germany’s main answers to the roots of the climate crisis is called „Energiewende“. This transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to renewable energy should not only reduce emission. It’s second effect is a decentralisation of energy production throughout the country but also in the ownership of energy production.
At the same time, the „Energiewende“ isn’t as green as it was supposed to be. The changes made in 2014 to the Renewable Energy Law aim at breaking the positive dynamics of the energy transition. A cap for solar and wind power was introduced and this cap on new capacities for wind power means that only ⅚ of the capacities from 2013 could be built in the future. From 2010 to 2012 more than 7000 Megawatt were added by solar power every year. The newly introduced cap is set at 2600 Megawatt. A few days ago new plans delaying the shut down of coal became public. The plans aim to reduce the CO2 emissions from coal. The draft, first demanding a reduction of 22 millions tons, now only demands a reduction 16 millions tons. 70 millions tons would have been necessary to let Germany reach its target of 40% emission reduction until 2020 compared to 1990 levels.1 Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and Minister of Economy, argued that coal is the back of the „Energiewende“.2
The transformation of a country’s energy system is also a huge structural change. Change doesn’t happen in a second, it needs time. And the „Energiewende“ specifically needs technologies as bridges from the problem of a centralised, unsustainable energy production to the solution of a decentralised, sustainable one. In Germany many people commonly refer to gas as one of these technologies. Nonetheless, gas has one huge disadvantage: It’s a fossil fuel. 3
Divestment and its consequences
The divestment movement is working against this. If we want to stay within the 2°C limit, only a certain amount of fossil fuels can be burnt. 4 In 2011, a study carried out by the Carbon Tracker Initiative concluded that the fossil fuel industry already had 2795 Gt of burnable Carbon in their reserves. To stay below two degrees, only 565 Gt can be burnt. A new study, published in “Nature”4, supports this: 30% of oil, 50% of gas and 80% of the so far known coal reserves need to stay in the ground.5 The aim of fossil fuel divestment is to get the money out of fossil fuel companies as their business model is not compatible with the climate – and due to the effects of the climate crisis with human rights as well. The amounts divested are not big. But the true power of the divestment movement lies in its strength to show that the support of fossil fuels is unethical. Ansar et al. (2013), conclude that the “divestment campaign is likely to lead to a change in market norms”.
Therefore it can be assumed that divestment adversely affects one important part of the Energiewende: The process of moving away from the problem of an unsustainable, centralised energy production towards a more sustainable, decentralised one, as this process needs a fossil fuel. In this case it is important to consider, what the divestment movement is doing in Germany.
Divest the councils
Münster was the first city in Germany which committed to divest. It began with a campaign to divest the funds of the university which were ignored. Ursula Nelles, the Principal of the university of Münster, had even announced that emails regarding divestment were directly going into Spam.7 Due to this, the activists started a campaign to divest the city of Münster – which now agreed to divest from coal and oil. Only gas remains in the funds of Münster. 8
Münster lies in North Rhine Westfalia which leads us to the Ruhr Area. A lot of coal mines are placed in this area. Strong connections between the councils (which are often dominated by the Social Democrats) and RWE exists. Furthermore, a strong connection to the workers is important for the Social Democrats as they see themselves as a result of their history, as the party of the working people. This has a symbolic power-at party conferences members often sing the hymn of miners. 9
Especially in North Rhine Westfalia, the SPD which is one of the governing parties of this federal state, is connected with the regional strongly rooted energy industry. The families of many politicians have a history in mining, which might explain their affiliation. As a consequence, there are strong connections between RWE and the sphere of politics. The mayor of Dortmund, Ulrich Sierau, and his colleague Dagmer Mühlenfehld from Mühlheim both sit in the board of RWE.10 On the other hand many communes have been investing in energy producers holding large shares of fossil fuels. With the rise of the energy transition these assets become less worth, leading to fundamental losses in the council’s budgets. 11
On the other hand one needs to consider the regional value chains from coal. By divesting, cities would give away their shares and therefore losing the strong connection to these companies and have less debts due to fewer shared values. This would enable a second effect: With no shares in coal, there is no direct interest for councils in the companies, there is only an indirect interest in fossil fuels. This emancipation from fossil fuels would open new windows of opportunities for the energy transition. As the example of Münster has shown, the councils can also differentiate the divested shares. Once it is predictable that mines and coal fired plants are going to be closed, there is also a need of social programmes for miners and alternative supply chains incorporating the ones from fossil fuels while being sustainable. Divestment is therefore no problem for the “Energiewende” and, more importantly, supports the “Energiewende” This effect, on a sphere of social acceptance, can be seen in Berlin. By divesting from fossil fuel companies, reasoned in an unsustainable business model, the social acceptance of investments in these companies is reduced. In Berlin the initiative „Fossil Free Berlin“ is showing this.
Berlin wants to become a carbon neutral city by 2050. But at the same time, as Michalina Golinczak, one of the activists pointed out “it is investing around €10 million of public money in private fossil fuel companies who are driving us toward climate catastrophe. This is absolutely inconsistent. For Berlin, divestment is a relatively easy step and it would provide a strong and inspiring signal to other cities and institutions to follow its example.” This already had an effect: The Greens in Berlin are supporting the divestment of the federal state.
Divestment, the catalysator
Michalina’s last sentence shows how Divestment supports the Energiewende by changing the discourse and giving good examples. Energiewende therefore is not only a change of the energy production. It adds that the Energiewende also has a deeper financial side one it. In the end, divestment seems to be huge support for the aims of the Energiewende. The missing differentiation of oil, coal and gas might be a problem for the process of the transition, but can be handled by those who divest from fossil fuels. On the other hand, and more important, divestment is pushing and radicalizing this process. By this it might be possible, that the Energiewende is a change again and it might come faster. This is the huge benefit of divestment for the Energiewende. So let’s do as the German Green Party and their youthwing write in their position officially supporting divestment: “Keine Kohle für Kohle” – “No money for coal!”
1 Oliver Krischer, Reinhard Priggen (2015): Braunkohle muss endlich Beitrag zum Klimaschutz leisten – Strukturwandel im Kraftwerkspark angehen
2 http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/sigmar-gabriel-kohle-ist-rueckendeckung-der-energiewende/1 0962976.html
3 http://www.nachhaltigkeitsrat.de/news-nachhaltigkeit/2015/2015-02-26/umweltschuetzer-uneins-ueber-rueckz ug-aus-geldanlagen-in-fossile-rohstoffe/
4 Carbon Tracker Initiative (2011): Unburnable Carbon –Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?
5 Christophe McGlade, Paul Ekins (2015): The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C
6 Atif Ansar, Ben Caldecott, James Caldebury (2013): Stranded assets and the fossil fuel divestment campaign: what does divestment mean for the valuation of fossil fuel assets?
7 http://gofossilfree.org/de/press-release/uni-munster-halt-an-klimaschadlichen-finanzanlagen-fest/ 8 http://www.klimaretter.info/politik/hintergrund/1
9 Schwarzbuch: Kohlepolitik
10 http://www.ruhrnachrichten.de/nachrichten/politik/aktuelles_berichte/Divestment-Bewegung-Klimaschuetzer-f ordern-Kommunen-sollen-RWE-verkaufen;art29862,2625199
11 http://www.energiezukunft.eu/umwelt/wirtschaft/kohlenstoffblase-klimaschutz-oder-wirtschaftskrise-gn10294 2/?printView=1