Bremen renewable, Climate culture Bremen, Generally, interview, Uncategorized

Harald Ginzky: The carbon footprint increases with the size of one’s wallet.

Dr. Harald Ginzky works as an environmental lawyer and transformation scientist for the German Environment Agency, now for more than 20 years, and is in charge of inter alia negotiating international environmental treaties as member of German delegations. In 2019, he co-founded the working group (“Arbeitskreis”) of the SPD Bremen City – Climate Change, Environmental Protection and Sustainable Economy, which he has since led together with Bianca Wenke. In an interview with denkhausbremen – which he expressly did not conduct for the German Environment Agency, but as spokesman for the aforementioned AK – he discusses the challenges for the SPD with regard to global climate justice. (Photo: Ev. Academy Loccum)

denkhausbremen: What does climate justice mean to you? What comes to your mind spontaneously?

Harald Ginzky: We can only achieve justice if we understand what the real challenge of climate policy is. It is often pretended that the core objective of climate policy is just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In my opinion, this is fundamentally wrong and in itself leads to an elitist and unjust approach.

At its core, climate policy is something fundamentally different: it is about changing both the economy and society as such in a way that good work and a good life are still possible for everyone under the condition of greenhouse gas neutrality. And this can only succeed if climate policy ensures justice – justice in terms of burdens, but also justice in terms of participation, i.e. participation in decision making and identifying and implementing solutions – both nationally and internationally. Such an approach which ensures credibility and reliability would also directly counteract the loss of trust in politics and the shift in society to the right – as we have unfortunately seen it in the election for the European Parliament.

Does global climate justice play a role in your political commitment?

Bremen’s influence on global climate justice is of course limited. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that Germany, and thus Bremen, has a historical and geopolitical responsibility. Historically, because climate change was mainly caused by the Global North. Geopolitically, because the Global North in particular has the economic and institutional capabilities to quickly implement a socio-ecological transformation towards climate neutrality. Because of the historical guilt of the North, the Global South is orienting itself to a certain extent towards the Global North, in the sense of: If they don’t, then we certainly won’t. In this respect, we have an essential responsibility here.

It is repeatedly argued that we could not expect so much from the people in Germany or in Bremen. The argument is really blind. Are African societies supposed to buffer what we refuse to tackle here – despite our historical responsibility and the much better opportunities?

In my opinion, global climate justice also means that Bremen should recognize and address the approximately 20% of the population with a migration background as a significant stakeholder. In my opinion, far too little is happening in this regard.

You were instrumental in bringing the Climate Working Group of the Bremen SPD into being. What response did you meet within your party? What are the successes – did you face resistence?

The AK was founded in December 2019. The work – complimentary, of course – is fun because we are a heterogeneous, very committed and very competent team of about 25 people – comrades in SPD terms – who work on concrete solutions. We are quite creative in developing ways and means to raise support in the Bremen SPD for our proposals.

In September 2020, the Bremen SPD passed a 15-page fundamental conceptual approach for climate policy in Bremen that is very innovative and clear-sighted. The SPD programme for the 2023 election has also included climate protection, decarbonisation and forward-looking structural transformation policy as core elements. This renewed orientation of the SPD Bremen is certainly a success that can be – to a certain extend – attributed to the AK.

Given our lively and respectful workstyle, the AK is a place of good democracy and political participation, combined with a high level of commitment and expertise.

Were you able to set specific priorities or achieve concrete results with the AK?

Yes, several to many – depending on your point of view: Above all, we have initiated discussions on topics which are of importance for Bremen, e.g. on the idea of a new motorway, the A27, on the readjustment of climate adaptations and on transport policy issues. The Bremen City SPD almost unanimously supported our “no” to the deepening of the Inner Weser, in the fall of 2023.

However, it is also important that we have put the topic of climate policy on the public agenda, with our “Climate Talks” series. Moreover, we have established a trustful network with many core actors in Bremen (including trade unions, churches, universities, the chamber of crafts and environmental NGOs). I think climate and sustainability policy can only succeed if we take advantage of the diverse innovative and creative initiatives from business and society, to promote and network them. It is the society which is in charge and which needs to be hold accountable.

For the German SPD, the social-democratic party, the issue of social justice has always been a core value. In your view, how can we ensure that we design climate change ambitions in a socially just way at the same time?

It is important to understand that justice can be seen from below and from above. For me, justice from above means that those who are largely responsible for the crisis due to a high climate footprint and/or are able to do so due to their economic situation needs to be obliged to bear the costs. Important to know, the climate footprint increases linearly with the size of one’s wallet, the continuous income. Justice from below demands that those who contribute little to climate change or who do not have the financial resources need to be relieved.

The currently discussed “climate money” (every citizen should get a certain amount of money in order to compensate the increased costs) could only be a start, a necessary one, but not a sufficient one. The basic idea of this “climate money” is that the poorer would benefit more from the amount than rich people.

Practically speaking, politics must also ensure that “disadvantaged neighborhoods,” which typically don’t have as strong a lobby as “academic districts,” are not overlooked when it comes to creating green spaces, bike paths, and green roofing.

However, climate justice could not only be achieved by climate policy measures. A decent minimum wage, an appropriate social security system and, for example, construction of social housing, are also means of ensuring climate justice.

Furthermore, it is necessary to withdraw many “neo-liberal” excesses, such as the absence of a wealth tax, the profiteering from increasingly absurd financial products, and the exclusive focus of corporations on dividend size rather than sustainability requirements. After all, we need systems that emphasize what we have in common, which promotes solidarity instead of competition and isolation. More egalitarian approaches are needed such as one health insurance for all.

Has the SPD developed adequate solution scenarios to adequately address the threat posed by the climate crisis?

If they had, Scholz (German chancellor) and Bovenschulte (mayor in Bremen) would have already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The fact that this is not the case shows that there is still room for improvement.

In principle, however, the SPD is the party for social justice and also for structural transformation policy. In terms of structural transformation policy, the Bremen SPD recently founded a corresponding project group, also partly on my advice. The aim is to consider how structural transformation policies should be developed and implemented in order to ensure a good life and work in the medium and long term under the premise of greenhouse gas neutrality in the two Bremen cities. A really complex challenge, but the SPD has commenced to work on it.

What the SPD is struggling with: letting go of the economic growth paradigm, accepting concepts of sufficiency, changing the mindset of the society. I would like to stress that these approaches will only succeed if the social dimension is taken into account. The main thing is to demand sufficiency from those who have enough anyway and not from for example the subsistence farmer in Zambia.

A last point in this context. In politics and also within the SPD, economic comparisons between fossil and sustainable solutions are still being made to justify what is considered reasonable. To be frank, in fact, this is absurd, because the fossil alternative always leads to costs for society (“externalization”), which on the one hand goes in the wrong direction in terms of climate policy and on the other hand, of course, is also unfair – because the economically weak are always disproportionately affected by the climate impacts. Thus these comparisons are really nonsense.