Ralf fucks on climate conflict in exploratory talks : “an ecological-social-liberal alliance would be a great opportunity for this country”

When it comes to climate protection, the FDP and the Greens have different approaches. Despite differences Ralf Fucks sees possibilities for compromise.

Ralf Fucks is head of the Center for Liberal Modernity and former chairman of the Heinrich Boll Foundation

Green thought leader Ralf Fucks sees an ecological-social liberal alliance as a "great opportunity". In an interview, the head of the Center for Liberal Modernity talks about lines of conflict and possibilities for compromise in view of the ongoing exploratory talks with the traffic lights. A kind of autosuggestion of awakening could help to overcome contradictions.

Mr. Fucks, you headed the Green Heinrich Boll Foundation for many years and then founded the Center for Liberal Modernity with your wife Marieluise Beck – you are regarded as a liberal Green like hardly anyone else. What for years was considered quite far-fetched – that Liberals and Greens would come together in an alliance – is now the most likely outcome of the coming weeks and months?
I am a little disappointed by the Green election result, there was more in it. But green-yellow is indeed a promising axis for the new coalition. Even if the traffic lights are not yet in place, I see an ecological-social-liberal alliance as a great opportunity for this country. The central idea – which is also a concern of the Center for Liberal Modernity – should be that ecology and freedom, climate protection and the market economy go together.

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Ralf fucks on climate conflict in exploratory talks : "an ecological-social-liberal alliance would be a great opportunity for this country"

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If it succeeds, it could provide a boost for the years ahead. Then something can succeed that is suitable as a model for the future beyond Germany. It would be a great happiness, because it is by no means self-evident.

What do you mean?
Liberal democracy is not guaranteed. On the one hand, we have the anti-liberal movements in Western-style democracies. Trump was not an operational accident. At the same time, since the Corona crisis, there has been a strong tendency toward more government. The longing for a protective, precautionary, but also prescriptive state has grown. In climate policy, too, it is not clear where the journey will take us. More government dirigisme and prohibitions, a kind of ecological planned economy?

Or can we find a liberal path that achieves climate neutrality at the required speed and at the same time leaves freedom for companies and citizens?? We have so far focused on targets and individual instruments and neglected the big question of the regulatory framework for the ecological transformation.

The black-red climate policy of the past few years was characterized by detailed targets for individual sectors, subsidy programs, and a coal phase-out that was negotiated down to the smallest detail, but is now likely to be up for grabs again.
Exactly. One disadvantage of detailed individual regulations is that they have to be constantly adapted with great effort and loss of time. A government top-down control system follows an engineering understanding of the transformation of a complex industrial society that seems inherently logical but is unlikely to lead to success. Climate neutrality requires nothing less than a green industrial revolution. For that, you need to unleash a market-based dynamic of innovation and investment.

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So the previous climate policy was for the barrel? That seems a bit harsh. Emissions also fell significantly under the Merkel I to IV governments.
A considerable part of the success is due to European emissions trading – by no means a German invention. There have been only a few systemic innovations in German environmental policy, for example the Recycling Management Act (Kreislauirtschaftsgesetz). The EEG also falls into this category. It has financed the learning curve for solar and wind energy and created a market for renewables that has produced enormous cost reductions on the supply side. In the meantime, the elimination of the EEG surcharge is overdue to lower electricity prices. The central instrument for decarbonization is emissions trading.

If I may say so, you almost sound like Christian Lindner pure and simple, without any green admixture.
Given. Ambitious emissions trading is not climate policy larifari, but sets a binding cap on CO2 emissions that is successively lowered. This is market-based regulatory policy. And yes, I think the introduction of a cross-sectoral CO2 market is a very effective lever. It captures all supply and demand and sets up competition for the best solutions.

Around 80 percent of investments come from companies. Conversely, this means that it won’t work without mobilizing private capital. Government investment plays a supporting role. They must provide the necessary infrastructure, promote research and development, and buffer the additional costs of switching to climate-neutral production processes. A concrete example is the rapid development of a hydrogen economy.

The Greens are responsible for that?
The Greens are the driving force behind the ecological transformation. But Olaf Scholz and the SPD are calling for a climate fund for public investment, new power lines and support for pioneering investments by industry.

Fucks sees no advantage in rapidly shutting down coal-fired power plants before energy supply alternatives are determined

Well, then the Red-Green-Yellow coalition is almost going it alone, if you can be believed.
Don’t worry – there are still a lot of differences to be bridged in the coalition negotiations. Government financing requirements are probably the biggest problem. Far-reaching tax cuts, a return to the "black zero" in the federal budget and a significant expansion of public investment in infrastructure, education and climate protection – that doesn’t add up at all. There will be a crunch. This is not hopeless.

Making the debt brake more dynamic – for example, by removing investments in the future – could be a workable compromise. This would require accommodating the FDP, for example by improving depreciation for research expenditures and climate investments by companies.

What about the direct burdens on the population? The FDP wants comprehensive emissions trading, but at the same time is at least partly in favor of a fuel price cap. A contradiction?
Yes, for sure. You can’t say the CO2 price is the key instrument, but when it starts to work, you want to prevent it from doing so. But the right consequence is a different one: If we get rising prices for gas and fuel, we have to ensure financial compensation for low-income households, for example in the form of a flat-rate "eco-bonus". This also has a positive social distribution effect.

More on the topic at Tagesspiegel Plus:

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The Greens, on the other hand, are in a consistently good position?
There is also still a need for clarification. Under pressure from climate change and Fridays for Future, many Greens want more radical climate policies. Bids and bans seem then the means of choice. But that is deceptive. We can’t even ban the burning of coal before we have alternatives for energy supply. Even the most radical do not demand to shut down coal-fired power plants tomorrow, although it would be right in the logic of climate catastrophe.

For the global climate, it is irrelevant whether the last German coal-fired power plant generates its last kilowatt hour in 2030 or 2034. The decisive factor is that the energy turnaround also becomes an economic success model. Only then will it get the support it needs and be globally connectable. Our role in the fight against climate change lies above all in developing alternatives that will soon enable ten billion people to prosper without environmental destruction.

Carry charm and energy of the new beginning and fancy selfies over these difficulties?
For all the sobriety of coalition negotiations, there needs to be some kind of autosuggestion: this is a new beginning, this is a departure, we are moving the republic forward and we are doing things together. The protagonists have to believe that, and the public has to buy it. Then a dynamic can emerge that makes it easier to bridge differences.

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That sounds very psychologizing..
But it is nevertheless true. That’s politics – at least in part. In addition: The problem pressure grows and grows. A government that dawdles along for another four years can no longer be communicated to the public. We all know: Climate change is already dangerously close to an escalation that can barely be controlled. We’re lagging behind in digitization, and we’re putting off the problems of demographic change.

To believe that the population will faithfully go along with further delay once again, I think is a dangerous illusion. Dangerous for the climate, but also for the politicians who indulge in it.

Fucks calls on the new federal government to authentically convey a new beginning. In this way, the parties could overcome their differences in exploratory talks

What are you alluding to? Even the Union has understood the importance of the issue after all. The difference to the SPD in climate policy is not that great. So why not Jamaica?
The CDU/CSU has distorted itself beyond recognition, to put it bluntly. It is programmatically burnt out and no longer knows what it stands for. It has to reposition itself in terms of content and personnel. Of course, it would be foolish for the FDP and Greens to rule out a Jamaica alliance; by doing so, they would make the SPD stronger in the negotiations than it is. But there would be an outcry if the party that lost the election were to be brought back into the chancellor’s office. With Armin Laschet, I can no longer imagine that with the best will in the world. That’s over.

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And with Soder?
Markus Soder is extremely versatile and would also be able to lead a modernization coalition. The question is rather: Is this covered by the Union as it lives and breathes?? Since the federal election, sympathies for a traffic light have increased significantly, the support for a Jamaica alliance has fallen. This is a clear signal.

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