Towards a Green New Deal

March 17, 2009
By Ralf Fücks
Speech by Ralf Fücks, March 11, 2009
held at the conference
Toward a Green New Deal. How Greening the Economy Will Fight Climate Change and Create Quality Jobs
Capitol Hill, Washington
hosted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the World Watch Institute

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you on behalf of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the World Watch Institute.

We take the great response to our invitation as a signal that, in transatlantic politics, green issues such as climate change, the energy crisis, and the opportunities offered by a green turnaround of our economies have finally made it to centre stage.

I want to thank Senator Brown who has addressed some key points. We appreciate your remarks very much - even more so as you represent an industrial state hit hard by the current economic crisis. Environmental concerns and economic interests do not have to clash. Rather, it works the other way around: Greening the economy will pave the way for the next long wave of sustainable growth.

Ladies and gentlemen, the debate on a transatlantic Green New Deal takes place just in time. The economic tsunami which, today, is devastating the world economy is much more than just a widespread recession. It marks the end of an old model for economic growth and the beginning of a new era.

What we are talking about is a structural change in the production system and the financial markets, a historical turn from unsustainable, destructive growth to sustainable growth.

Concisely and in American terms: Green is the new red, white, and blue. Unfortunately the intellectual property rights to that statement are not mine but Thomas Friedman’s.

The promotion of energy efficiency, a switch to renewable resources, and a new generation of low carbon technologies, products and services will hand multiple dividends to our societies:

  • Greening the economy is imperative in order to avoid chaotic climate change.
  • It will improve energy security and will allow us to spend trillions of dollars on domestic jobs and services instead of feeding oil-based autocracies in the Middle East or Latin America.
  • It will be a big boost for entrepreneurs and workers alike - as can be seen by what happened in Germany within the last decade. Today, in Germany, there are about 1.8 million jobs in the green sector, and we are confident that, until 2020, these figures will double - by which time green industries will have become the leading sector of Germany’s economy.

If we put on hold serious efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions until the economic crisis is over, we would not only be environmentally irresponsible, we would also squander a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new wave of sustainable growth.

Let me add some brief remarks on international climate co-operation in regard to the UN summit in Copenhagen.

During the last global climate conference in Bali, a delegate from a developing country sent an appeal to the US: “If you are not ready to lead, please step aside and let others go forward.” This should not happen in Copenhagen.

We want to encourage US leadership in the fight against climate change. There are great expectations all around the world as regards the role of the United States in combating climate change. At home and internationally strong US engagement will be essential for a new global climate deal. The world wants the largest and most powerful economy to show ambition at home and to reach out in order to help other countries deal with the impact of climate change. If this does not happen there will be no deal with China and other emerging countries.

These emerging powers will have to join the effort. Therefore, we will have to be very straightforward about the responsibility of the US and Europe to achieve a global climate deal. It is necessary to call for a sharp reduction of the carbon footprint around the globe. Yet, we will have to bear in mind the huge gap that exists between the per capita greenhouse gas emissions in our countries and in the developing world. Just one example: In India there are still 400 million people with no access to electricity.

We have to accept the need of poorer countries to develop. And we must help them so that they may leapfrog the fossil fuel era and find sustainable ways to meet their needs and improve their standard of living.

Copenhagen could work - if we draw the right lessons from Kyoto. The Kyoto Protocol was never accepted in the US for two reasons:

  • First, no contribution by the emerging powers was proposed. If we in the North show leadership and contribute to the solution it will be much more likely that China, India, Mexico, and the other emerging powers will agree to shoulder their share and reduce emissions.
  • Second, the Kyoto Protocol has been perceived as a threat to US industry. The opposite is true. A cap and trade system for CO2 emissions, feed-in tariffs for renewable energies, and mandatory energy efficiency standards will accelerate innovation, bring about massive savings in energy, and will create many job opportunities.

We are living in stormy times. We face a double crisis, one of the environment, one of the economy - all of which has the potential to create huge social, economic, and political upheavals. Yet this does not mean that all we have to do is adapt to the catastrophe. The race is still on between, on the one hand, a doom and gloom scenario, and, on the other, a much more proactive strategy for greening the economy globally.

The second pillar of a Green New Deal will have to be massive investment in human resources, i.e. child care, education, science, job training. Thus the promise of upward mobility may be restored and, once again, all citizens will gain the opportunity to better themselves by their own efforts. Plus: Making education one of our top priorities will enable us to make the transition to a knowledge-based society and to maintain a high degree of innovation.


Ralf Fücks is a member of the executive board of the Heinrich Böll Foundation since 1996. He is a regular contributor to numerous newspapers and political periodicals and co-author to numerous books. 


This text is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.