SPIEGEL Interview with German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel 'Butting Heads with the Americans Doesn't Do Any Good'
Part 2: 'One Shouldn't Be Closed-Minded Towards Certain Arguments Just Because they Come from the Auto Industry'
Gabriel: One shouldn't be closed-minded toward certain arguments just because they come from the auto industry. For instance, the development of new and more environmentally friendly technologies usually starts in the upper price segment -- that is, with the big sedans. Their high sticker prices make it possible to experiment with new materials and engines, which are later used in less expensive small cars.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying that German automakers are doing everything right and just being taken to task by the evil EU?
Gabriel: Nonsense. Of course the German auto industry was sleeping. Now it faces huge changes. If it hopes to remain a factor in the markets of the future, it has to develop new, environmentally friendly models, and it has to act quickly. We don't want to relive the history of catalytic converters, diesel filters and hybrid engines. We (Germans) invented them, but in all three cases the Japanese were ahead of us when it came to implementation.
SPIEGEL: Who should get higher marks on climate protection, (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel or you?
Gabriel: Of course, I would give us both excellent marks. The only difference is that my party supports me, while the Union isn't always behind Ms. Merkel. Her state governors have a tendency to praise climate policy on Sundays, and only on Sundays. During the week, they do their utmost to undermine it in the Bundesrat (the upper house of the German parliament, in which the federal states are represented). Ms. Merkel should be glad she has the SPD. We're certainly pleased to help her push through our national climate protection package, the world's toughest, over the objections of the states with conservative administrations.
SPIEGEL: Economics Minister Michael Glos wants to make extending the operating life of nuclear power plants a topic in the election campaign. Other conservative politicians are even calling for the construction of new nuclear power plants.
Gabriel: If Mr. Glos wants to give it to us as a campaign gift, I certainly won't turn him down. I believe that we simply cannot get the technology under control, especially in the case of older plants. That's why the reactors have to be shut down.
(Editor's note: Click here to read a 2007 debate between Sigmar Gabriel and energy utility EnBW CEO Utz Claassen about whether nuclear power can provide a way out of the climate crisis.)
SPIEGEL: Are they any conditions under which you would even consider giving up the idea of abandoning nuclear power?
Gabriel: No, none at all.
SPIEGEL: Is that the last word.
Gabriel: The last word is always reserved for lawmakers.
SPIEGEL: While we abandon nuclear power, our neighbors are busy building new plants. This doesn't make much sense, in the age of globalization.
Germany's Biblis nuclear power plant: "The idea that the growing demand for energy worldwide can be met with energy from nuclear power is nonsense."
SPIEGEL: Your old friend within the party, Wolfgang Clement, recently warned against Germany abandoning coal and nuclear power. You used to have a high opinion of him.
Gabriel: My old friend Wolfgang is apparently suffering from memory lapses. As a cabinet minister, he supported the nuclear consensus (the nuclear phase-out agreement that went into law in 2001), so he can't exactly say now that abandoning nuclear power is a gamble. Besides, his claim that the SPD is completely opposed to new coal power plants is completely wrong. In fact, the opposite is the case. But the real issue is the technology that's used to operate the plants.
SPIEGEL: Then again, environmental organizations are protesting against new coal power plants.
Gabriel: Even if we achieved the goal of 30 percent of our energy coming from renewable sources by 2020, 70 percent of our energy needs would still have to be met. Achieving this with natural gas alone, as the Greens and some environmental groups are demanding, would be extremely costly for industry and for consumers. The future Russian president has already said that natural gas prices will increase by 40 percent in 2008. If we relied completely on gas, the price of electricity would skyrocket. Let the Greens explain that to the public.
Cyclists in polluted Beijing: "Together with the Chinese, we want to launch climate protection projects for which we would provide part of the funding and that would enable Germany to claim emissions reduction credits."
Gabriel: That's total nonsense. Not even the studies my colleague Glos presented at last year's energy summit paint those kinds of horror scenarios.
SPIEGEL: 2007 was the year of climate diplomacy. What is your most lasting memory of the summit in Bali?
Gabriel: That these sorts of negotiations are worse than any wage negotiations. Climate diplomats seem to have developed a rule that negotiations always have to be 24-hour marathons -- even when everything is already set in stone or a compromise has been reached. But at least it was worth it. The most important achievement of the Bali conference is that we have finally reached the point where not just climate issues, but also economic and political interests are openly on the table.
SPIEGEL: A binding UN climate protection treaty is expected by 2009. Given the difficult start in Bali, do you think this is possible?
Gabriel: Yes, I am optimistic, even though a real breakthrough can only be expected after the American presidential election.
SPIEGEL: Your state secretary is traveling to Honolulu this week to attend the US's own climate summit. Why are you even taking part in this show conference?
Gabriel: If the United States had boycotted Bali, we would have withdrawn from its conferences of the world's major energy consuming nations. But in the end, the UN climate agreement will be reached by precisely those 20 countries that will be represented in Honolulu as the world's biggest emitters of CO2. Constantly butting heads with the Americans doesn't do any good; at some point, America's more well-meaning citizens will also start to take it personally.
SPIEGEL: And what do you hope to achieve during your trip to China this week?
Gabriel: Together with the Chinese, we want to launch climate protection projects for which we would provide part of the funding and that would enable Germany to claim emissions reduction credits.
SPIEGEL: The Chinese have enough money to build new warships to protect oil imports. And we're supposed to pay for their environmental projects?
Gabriel: If we want to implement climate protection worldwide, countries like Germany, which are capable of developing new technologies, will have to hand over some of their knowledge. We can't expect to have our cake and eat it too.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Gabriel, we thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by Christian Schwärgerl and Markus Feldenkirchen.
- Part 1: 'Butting Heads with the Americans Doesn't Do Any Good'
- Part 2: 'One Shouldn't Be Closed-Minded Towards Certain Arguments Just Because they Come from the Auto Industry'