SPIEGEL: Mr. Röttgen, Chancellor Angela Merkel says we shouldn't bad mouth the outcome of the world climate summit in Copenhagen. Please tell us, as a minister who is loyal to the chancellor, exactly what good came out of it.
Norbert Röttgen: First and foremost, the result is a great disappointment. But one should not overlook the fact that one thing has been achieved and secured: The goal of keeping global warming from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius is included in the closing document and there is a stated desire to provide aid worth billions for sustainable development in developing nations. China has also agreed for the first time to allow its emissions cuts to be tracked. We agreed to this because it is better than doing nothing. We will now continue on this basis. The alternative would have been a total collapse of the climate protection process.
SPIEGEL: Before going to Copenhagen, you formulated clear criteria for success at the summit. You wanted to see concrete reduction targets being established for both 2020 and 2050, which would lead to a global climate treaty within six months. Neither of those things has been achieved. Why don't you be honest and talk about a complete failure?
Röttgen: There is no disguising the fact that the outcome does not meet our criteria for success, and it is miles away from what we consider to be urgently necessary. If you want to call that failure, then I can understand that -- even if I do not entirely share that view.
SPIEGEL: Why, then, is the chancellor accusing critics of the summit, of all people, of damaging climate protection efforts?
Röttgen: The chancellor and I have seen up close that in some quarters there is great interest in seeing the UN's climate protection process fail completely. Therefore, it can be dangerous to talk everything down. Those who always talk about the conference using only the vocabulary of failure must be careful not to herald the end of international climate protection efforts. The brutal disappointment, which I also feel myself, should not cause us to become resigned. On the contrary, it has now become more urgent than ever that we find solutions.
SPIEGEL: What caused the conference to collapse?
Röttgen: Emerging economies, led by China, were not willing to commit themselves to CO2 reduction targets as a part of their foreign policy or to join the common political will. With the United States, the problems were domestic in nature. The political conditions are lacking there for the country to be part of a global framework. Both countries are not prepared, for different reasons, to solve the problem on the basis of reciprocal obligations. Both seem to consider national politics to be more important.
SPIEGEL: Was the goal not simply too ambitious from the outset?
Röttgen: No, and we will not give it up, either. It is ambitious, but there is no alternative. That's why we now need to analyze exactly why it hasn't worked yet.
SPIEGEL: At what point in Copenhagen did you realize that things were turning for the worst?
Röttgen: When it became clear that China was not even willing to accept unilateral pledges on the part of the industrialized nations to reduce emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050. That was the absolute low point. The Chinese said that was too little for them. We replied that we industrialized countries could perhaps offer 100 percent, but that would have to be the end -- for mathematical reasons apart from anything else. At that point, it became clear that the Chinese were not concerned with agreeing on CO2 reductions, but rather with preventing them. When US President Barack Obama retreated for a face-to-face meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, it suddenly became clear to me: We can forget about our main targets.
SPIEGEL: Angela Merkel is talking about a new world climate order. What would that look like?
Röttgen: The conference has made it clear that we do not have a global climate policy and that the will to create one is lacking. The CO2 issue is fundamental, it cuts deep into every economic process. It will lead to new power battles and to a new division of power.
'The Wrestling for Power Will Now Begin'
SPIEGEL: Who are the winners and losers?
Röttgen: A chapter has been closed in Copenhagen, the well-intended attempt at harmony. Now the wrestling will begin for positions of power, but no fixed structure has yet taken hold. At the moment we are experiencing a lack of structure, a lack of results and an inability to act, triggered mainly by the United States which, in the case of climate protection, as in capital markets, is no longer capable of leading. This has created a power vacuum. And when there is a power vacuum, there are others who would like to step in.
SPIEGEL: By cutting a deal with the emerging economies and giving the EU the cold shoulder, the US has ushered in the end of the era of the classical West.
Röttgen: The US as leader is part of the political concept of the West. But the US hasn't led -- instead it reached a deal with China that there wouldn't be any leadership. In my perception, they have neither turned away from Europe nor really turned toward China strategically. In that sense I see an erosion of their leadership role. Barack Obama and Wen Jiabao have agreed to the lowest common denominator: China doesn't want to lead, and the US cannot lead. The major blockade at the summit grew out of an unfortunate combination of weak leadership on the part of the Americans and Chinese power to impede progress.
SPIEGEL: But isn't Europe the real loser? It was unable to push through any of its objectives.
Röttgen: No, Europe is not the loser because it presented itself as a unified bloc at the summit, with clear goals and a solid strategy. That was one of the few really positive experiences in Copenhagen and vitally important to our role in this new world order. We have shown what Europe's role could be.
SPIEGEL: Perhaps Europe has a role, but Europe has no power.
Röttgen: We cannot solve the climate problem alone because, in this sense, our emissions are too low. Our share of global emissions is only about 14 percent. We could stop emitting CO2 tomorrow and global warming would still be catastrophic. On this issue those who emit the most have the greatest power -- unfortunately.
SPIEGEL: Despite all the superficial conflicts, wasn't there an American-Chinese alliance in Copenhagen? Both countries are economically dependent on one another to a massive extent, a fact that creates common interests.
Röttgen: That perspective only goes part of the way to providing an answer. The Chinese do not want any obligations under international law which involve transparency, because they fear it will set a precedent for other areas of policy.
SPIEGEL: What about the Americans?
Röttgen: In the United States, the country's political and economic elite know that the hour has arrived in which the US, for environmental and economic reasons, needs to follow the path that will lead it to becoming a CO2-neutral society. But this elite is unable to secure majority support for that approach. Too many people are unwilling to follow them because they prefer to have cheap money to consume, and they don't want to limit their CO2 emissions, so that they can continue to do things their way. The elite believe they will lose the majority if they try to explain the energy issue. So I do not believe there is a conscious American-Chinese alliance. It is more a case of two forms of weakness coming together.
SPIEGEL: The Chinese sent deputy ministers to discussions with Obama until he, enraged, went to Wen Jiabao and demanded direct talks. Have we just witnessed the world's new top superpower?
Röttgen: China sees itself in economic terms as an emerging country, but when it comes to CO2 emissions it is a superpower that could almost ruin the two-degree target all by itself. The government in Beijing, of course, takes advantage of the fact that the US and Europe do not have a common position. The Americans should reflect carefully on that when they analyse what happened at the summit.
SPIEGEL: Was the image deceptive that Sudan, a rogue state, had more influence in Copenhagen than Germany?
Röttgen: That is truly wrong. Sudan had no influence, but was used as a mouthpiece for foreign interests -- including China.
SPIEGEL: Germany was unable to achieve anything.
Röttgen: Germany alone cannot determine anything in global politics -- the only thing that counts there is European unity. And we worked to unite the Europeans in Copenhagen. That too is a contribution.
'Our Capital Is Green Technology and Political Credibility'
SPIEGEL: But Germany is clearly so insignificant that no one wants to follow the German example on climate issues.
Röttgen: You are also deceiving yourself there. It is German policy to take a leading role in environmental technology. China and the US may oppose binding targets, but both countries are also pursuing a massive expansion of their own environmental technologies and will also buy the best technologies from around the world. Our role is in a sense quite traditional: We want to help satisfy the growing demand for energy in an environmentally friendly way with German technology, engineering skills and equipment. Our capital is green technology and political credibility. And we can exert political and economic influence using those things.
SPIEGEL: Germany will host a small climate summit in Bonn in June 2010. What do you intend to do better than the Danes?
Röttgen: It won't be possible for us to achieve in half a year what could not be achieved in the past two years and more and what did not succeed in Copenhagen. The fact that the US and China fundamentally reject the current approach is a turning point. It requires that we find the causes, which includes being self-critical. We also need to make changes to our strategy and to find a new approach. We need to talk about the whole format. The EU environment ministers agreed last Tuesday that they would do this in Seville at the end of January.
SPIEGEL: Is there any basis for hopes that there could still be a global climate treaty despite everything?
Röttgen: It is in no way finished. There are important goals in the closing document and there is an urgency to the issue. We have all the ingredients, but it remains an open question as to how we can achieve these goals. In my view, though, it is clear that despite all the disappointment, there is no alternative to the United Nations. If the climate protection process is transferred to another body, we will just have the same problems there. We should push forward the development (of the process) within the context of the UN and international law.
SPIEGEL: In the wake of the Copenhagen debacle, the German business community has attacked you for your climate policies. Will you be forced to roll back these policies?
Röttgen: It is a strategic mistake to demand something like that now. We can only guarantee German prosperity if we use and offer the most efficient products and the most environmentally friendly energy technologies. Many executives are encouraging me to stick to the current course. There are many firms whose bottom lines show that in the environmental sector growth rates and numbers of jobs are increasing. We shouldn't send that money abroad to buy oil -- we should be using it here to create jobs using German engineering skills.
SPIEGEL: Is there any truth to the warning by Hans-Peter Keitel, who heads the powerful Federation of German Industries (BDI), that a goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent would endanger Germany's competitiveness in the global economy?
Röttgen: This goal is the condition for our prosperity, because it will lead us to the most advanced technologies. If we now lose time with backward-looking discussions and lose our lead, then the Chinese and Americans will take the markets of the future away from us.
SPIEGEL: You once said that quantitative growth is a thing of the past. It's a nice soundbite. But the first major legislative package passed by the new German government, a coalition between Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, is the so-called "growth acceleration law." How do those two ideas fit together?
Röttgen: This is a first, quick step to support families and people with average incomes during a phase of recession.
SPIEGEL: But the €1 billion tax cut for hotels could be better put into energy research.
Röttgen: This was a compromise solution, and not everyone needs to be thrilled about it. As environment minister, I would prefer to see hotels use the money from that tax break to renovate their buildings to make them more energy efficient and to switch to green energy. The tax cut shouldn't simply end up in the bank -- it should be put to good use.
SPIEGEL: Ahead of the climate summit, you said that doing without things wasn't the right way. Is that still true? Or do people need to prove through changes in their lifestyle that they can be better than politicians when it comes to saving the climate?
Röttgen: If ordinary people don't participate, then we cannot achieve anything. But the problem is too large to be solved through individual behavior alone. Everyone must participate, but the general population cannot replace the political responsibility and the technological revolution that are needed. We need to set strict CO2 standards, because investments in environmentally friendly innovations wouldn't be made otherwise. That applied before Copenhagen and it is especially true now.
SPIEGEL: So is it now necessary to do without?
Röttgen: I think doing without is the wrong term. It is not "doing without" if we drive an electric car instead of gasoline-powered cars or purchase regionally sourced food rather than products that have been transported long distances. It is not necessary to have higher CO2 emissions and to waste resources in order to have a high quality of life and human happiness.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Röttgen, we thank you for this interview.