After winning Germany’s federal elections on September 22nd, Chancellor Angela Merkel is in the middle of difficult coalition talks to form a new government. Because Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats, did not win an absolute majority in parliament, it must find a new coalition partner. The party has begun negotiations with Social Democrats to form a grand coalition.
Importantly, the decisions coming out of these negotiations could have significant implications for clean energy development. The "renewable energy club" recently initiated by the German government could provide a boost to the national and global expansion of renewable energy--if the club is designed right, that is.
Coming Together to Accelerate Renewable Energy
Germany is currently in the middle of its “Energiewende,” an ambitious plan to significantly increase the country’s use of energy efficiency and renewable energy. So naturally, attention has focused on what the new government might mean for domestic renewable energy policy. Leaked documents suggest that Germany’s ambitious renewable electricity target may be increased further, while the mechanism through which renewable energy is supported will be reformed. Influential environmental NGOs have also demanded stronger climate policy, including a binding domestic climate law and a more ambitious stance in European and international climate negotiations. While such a leadership role would be very important to move international climate talks forward, it is not yet clear to what extent it will be reflected in the coalition agreement.
Yet another important aspect of Germany’s clean energy future has received little attention thus far: cooperation within the new, international “renewables club.”
A year ago, German environment minister Peter Altmaier announced he would form a club of countries to lead the world’s clean energy transition. Ministers and high-level representatives from China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Morocco, South Africa, Tonga, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom–as well as the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)—officially launched this “Renewables Club” on June 1, 2013.
The Club’s exact role is still unknown, but in a communique, ministers describe it as a “high-level political alliance” that commits to “continue our role as agenda-setters in accelerating the deployment of renewable energy and to promote it as a key underpinning of economic growth, social prosperity and environmental stability.”
Designing an Effective Renewable Energy Club
Research shows that low-carbon clubs like the Renewables Club have the potential to be truly transformational for countries’ energy sectors—if they are designed right. Germany is not the only country pursuing a shift towards an energy system that is predominantly based on renewable energy. Across the world, countries are investing in renewables in order to provide their populations with access to modern energy services, power their economic development with clean energy, and enhance energy security. Cooperation in a club can provide additional incentives, including: allowing member countries to learn from each other; discuss challenges and opportunities; cooperate in research, development, and trade; and step up their energy transition efforts. In addition, clubs can drive serious greenhouse gas emissions reductions, generate greater ambition, and support global efforts like the UNFCCC to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
But to succeed, clubs must be more than just forums for dialogue – they must incorporate real commitments and real action. This is not a task for the German government alone – all member countries will need to work together to make the Renewables Club stronger. Here are four steps they should take:
1) Clarify the Club’s vision and objectives
The Club needs a strong, specific vision, such as: “We aim to develop an energy system based predominantly on renewable energy to reduce risks and deliver competitive, affordable, and predictable energy.” A shared, quantified goal—such as doubling the share of renewable energy in member countries by 2025 or installing an additional 1,000 gigawatts of clean energy—helps substantiate a common vision.
2) Encourage Club members to make strong commitments
In order to stand out among existing international initiatives and underline that this is an initiative of true leaders – not merely another dialogue forum – the Club should clearly define how members will contribute to reaching the common vision. All member countries should have ambitious domestic renewable energy targets and implementation strategies in line with the Club’s vision.
3) Develop a leaders’ roadmap
Once the Club has formulated a clear vision, it should commission experts from all members and IRENA to examine barriers to its vision. It should then develop solutions to overcome these barriers through existing international initiatives, national-level efforts in member countries, and common activities in the Club. This leaders’ roadmap could become the central guiding document for the Club.
4) Agree on an action program at the next Club meeting in January
The leaders’ roadmap will identify priority areas for the Club and provide the basis for developing a program of work, but implementation may take several years. At the next Club meeting, scheduled for January in Abu Dhabi, members should agree on activities that start now—like a global communications campaign, a dialogue on the most effective policies for renewable energy and green jobs, an investor information portal, or a plan to open up existing training and education programs to engineers and decision-makers from other Club member countries.
As the impacts of climate change continue to be felt around the world, the need for international action has never been clearer. Clubs like the Renewables Club can act as important drivers in transitioning to a low-carbon economy. We need to make sure they’re designed effectively in order to secure a more sustainable future.