Ecological Thoughts of Germany’s Green Party

2021-11-25 17:54WuHuiping
当代世界英文版 2021年4期


The German Green Party, or the Greens, has always upheld environment protection and sustainable development as its core programme. During its 40 plus years history, the party keeps adjusting itself with the change of times, and has continuously expanded the connotation of its thoughts on environment protection. The Greens advocates the concept of “society-ecology market economy”, and proposes to redefine wealth with ecological standards, and conduct ecological modernization on the capitalist economy and society, so as to achieve the ecological transformation of Germany by 2030. Currently, as environment protection is taking shape on a global scale, the Greens is ushering in a new round of development opportunities by inheriting and innovating its political programme.

The Emergence and Regression of the Ecological Modernization Thoughts of the Greens

In 1972, the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, which for the first time revealed environmental and ecological consequences brought by the traditional industrial growth model. As a result, the European public started to pay attention to environment protection issues such as air pollution, natural resource sustainability and chemical pollution accidents, and new social movements such as environmentalist movement, and anti-nuclear movement turned prevalent. Against this background, the Greens came into being in 1980 and expressly listed “social justice, ecological wisdom, grassroots democracy and nonviolence” as its four pillars upon its establishment. The issues of environment and climate protection stayed in the development course of the party thereafter.

In the first decade and more after its foundation, the Greens experienced the struggle of paths between the moderate left “practical faction” and the radical left “idealistic faction”. After the German reunification, the pragmatic faction prevailed within the party. The Greens gradually cast off its anti-establishment and opposition party characteristics which were typical in its early years, abandoned criticism on the western parliamentary democracy and the industrial and capitalist economic and social systems, and evolved into a steady political power within the parliament. The Party once participated in the ruling at the federal level and in several federal states and even became the main ruling party in Baden-Württemberg. In terms of its programme, the Greens correspondingly did away with its image as a single-issue party only talking about environment protection issues with its electorate, and proposed a full set of policies in a wide range of fields including diplomacy, defense, economy, social welfare, fiscal policy, taxation and education towards all walks of life.

However, the Greens has retained ecological protection as its most distinctive feature and continued to enrich the spiritual core and connotation of ecological modernization in line with changes of the times. The party has developed several representative dominant policy conceptions and technical pathways, including ecological taxation reform, promoting sustainable energy development, closing nuclear power plants, and achieving ecological agricultural transformation, committing itself to the gradual ecological modernization transformation of the industrial society under the existing market economy order and framework in Germany. These policy conceptions not only provided source of programme for the Greens to participate in political affairs in the government at all levels and in the parliament, but also drew the mainstream political parties attention on environment protection and climate issues. Under the Greens influence, ecological and climate protection became a consensus among different political parties, and was incorporated into the political programme of all mainstream political parties, the administrative programme of all subsequent federal governments and laws and regulations. That it was the Grand coalition and FDP rather than the Greens that first proposed and implemented energy transformation in Germany in 2011 and decided to shut down all nuclear power stations in 2022 also proved this political consensus. In spite of this, the Greens still firmly holds on to the say in the field of climate and ecology, and continues to play a “daring vanguard” role on climate protection amid political party competition.

The Greens always maintains an advantage on the issue of environment protection. As climate protection returned to public attention and became a pressing issue of the times, the Greens seized the opportunity and commenced the discussion on revising its position paper in 2018 in an effort to adjust its basic values, principles, and positions to better respond to challenges brought by the changes in Germany and the rest of the world. After 2019, the Greens raised more policy proposals on environment protection in the environment, energy, agriculture and transportation sectors. In the end of 2020, the Party adopted its latest position paper, which put climate protection as the core issue in its 2021 election campaign programme. As the issue of climate protection continued to gain heat, the Greens ushered in brand new development opportunities, stood out amid fierce competitions among political parties, and nearly became the “Party of All People”. A focal point during the 2021 federal election, the Greens enjoyed a neck and neck poll rating with major ruling parties in Germany. Annalena Baerbock, the Partys candidate for chancellor also maintained high popularity for quite some time. The Party only ran into setbacks when the general election day drew near. Correspondingly, the number of the Greens party member grew rapidly, amounting to 115, 000 as of the first half of 2021, which formed a sharp contrast with other political parties that suffered severe member losses.

Latest Development in the Connotation of the Greens Ecological Modernization Thoughts

The latest development and practice of the Greens ecological modernization thoughts was collectively embodied in the Partys programme and position paper released in recent years, including the latest position paper in 2020, the campaign programme of the 2021 federal election and the Emergency Climate Protection Programme for the Next Administration submitted in August, 2021.

I.Guiding Thoughts

Since its founding, the Greens has been devoted to repairing the damage capitalism has done to natural resources by conducting ecological modernization on capitalism. To this end, the Greens has adhered to its core values of environment and climate protection, absorbed and borrowed ideas from all kinds of thoughts like green capitalism, ecological capitalism, natural capitalism and green market economy, explored and enriched the connotation of ecological modernization in keeping with the times, held high the banner of “society-ecology market economy”, and advocated a “society-ecology” framework for the market economy system.

The concept of “society-ecology” could date back to the research by the Swiss economist Binswanger on how to get out of the growth trap in the 1970s and 1980s. It was later accepted by the Greens and gradually evolved into the Partys guiding thoughts. In its position paper of 2020, the Greens adopted “ecology, fairness, self-determination, democracy and peace” as the five core values of its political programme, and adopted the implementation of “society-ecology” market economy as its guiding thoughts. In its 2021 election campaign guidelines, the Greens again asserted that wealth should not be purely defined with total economic output or enterprise profits. Instead, measurement standards in terms of inclusiveness, social welfare and ecology should be added apart from the economic standards, and policies should be adjusted accordingly.

II.Main Features

The current ecological modernization thoughts of the Greens demonstrates several prominent features.

First, to lead a new round of economic and industrial transformation by taking advantage of climate protection. Asserting changes in ways of thinking, the Greens proposes to adopt the 1.5℃ temperature control target committed in The Paris Agreement as the basis for formulating all policies, laws and regulations, and to adopt carbon emission amount and climate impact as key standards in the evaluation of work. Meanwhile, full efforts should be made to unearth the new momentum and new opportunities that climate protection brings to employment and create “green employment”, so as to lead a new round of transformation of the economy and industry through climate protection and to achieve high quality social and economic development.

Second, to coordinate targets in the economy, society and climate protection. The Greens proposes to achieve an organic integration of the three pillars for global sustainable development. On the one hand, climate targets should be pursued while safeguarding social wealth, industrial foundation and employment. The government should leverage policies to encourage the development of green and innovative products, processes and technology, and enhance resource use efficiency and economic competitiveness; on the other hand, climate targets should be pursued in conjunction with social targets like fairness and security. The government should provide supporting funds, job shifts, training and further education for the people in the regions subject to the impact of transformation, and mobilize everyone to engage in the process of ecological modernization.

Third, to forge an integrated outlook on ecology that covers all fields. Viewing ecological modernization as a systematic project and horizontal task, the Greens applies climate protection and sustainable development targets to policy making in fields including industry, energy, transportation, housing construction, land use, taxation and trade, and correspondingly proposes sustainable development concepts such as sustainable growth, sustainable trade, sustainable financial market and sustainable transportation systems.

Fourth, to demand that the government and the market both play their roles. The Greens believes that the government is an important but not the only actor in the ecological transformation process and that importance should be attached to the creativity and innovative vitality of the market. The government may guide enterprises and social capital to work towards achieving carbon neutrality by means of public investment, subsidies, preferential taxation, research funding, public purchase and other policy support.

III. Pathways

The Greens has transformed its ecological modernization thoughts into a full set of ecological transformation scheme. For the 2021 German federal election, the Party has set up ambitious climate targets and timetables, and proposed specific technical pathways and policy tools.

First, to adopt more ambitious climate targets. On the basis of the targets set by the German government and EU organizations, the Greens has proposed a series of more ambitious climate protection targets, the core concept of which is to achieve the ecological transformation of Germany by 2030.

Second, to promote the governments conclusion of “industrial contracts” with the industrial sector. The Greens has proposed that the government should conclude climate agreements with the industrial sector, thereby guiding the later to increase investment on sustainable development, and explore modes of sustainable development.

Third, to give play to the facilitating role of fiscal policies and financial leverage. The Greens has come up with a large scale transformation plan, which proposes that in the coming 10 years, the German government should invest 50 billion euros of public funds per year, phase out subsidies on projects harmful to the environment, and enhance financial support to renewable energy and low-emission infrastructure projects.

Fourth, to make plans for decarbonization in the energy, transportation, construction and agricultural sectors. In the energy section, the Greens has proposed to adopt the green hydrogen strategy and to optimize the overall energy structure in line with carbon neutrality requirements by improving the distribution channels of renewable energy and expanding renewable energy infrastructure; in the transportation sector, the Greens has proposed to optimize the planning of sustainable roads and transportation by prioritizing the development of low-emission transportation alliances constituted by short-distance public transportation, railway transportation and waterway transportation; in the construction sector, the Greens has proposed to adopt mandatory installation of solar energy panels on the roof of buildings, promote the construction of resource-saving and recycling buildings, and conduct carbon neutrality renovation for existing buildings; in the agricultural sector, the Greens has urged the government to increase funding for ecological agriculture, levy consumption taxes on dairy products and meat that increase burden on the environment, and follow the principle of bio-diversity in the use of land.

Fifth, to develop various carbon pricing tools. The Greens has demanded amendments of laws on energy taxation by gradually raising the carbon price for Germany in the European carbon emission trading system from the current 25 euros per ton minimum to 60 euros in 2023. The Party has also urged the EU to reform its system in accordance with the revised 2030 Climate Target Plan, increase carbon price in the sectors of electricity, industry and aerospace, so as to pressure these industries to use renewable energy and invest in low carbon technologies.

Sixth, to boost green technology research and technological competitiveness. The Greens highly values green digitization. On one hand, it encourages enterprises and research institutions to enhance their innovative and R&D capacity. Through mechanisms such as research funding programs, government public purchase, fiscal subsidies and preferential tax policy, the enterprises will be motivated to develop new products, new materials, new technologies and new procedures that are low carbon and environment friendly; on the other hand, it asserts the integration of green and digitization transformation, and proposes to develop high-end technologies including artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing, quantum technology, bio-technology and data protection and digital application scenarios such as electronic administration.

Enlightenment from the Ecological Modernization Thoughts of the Greens

China and Germany share a strategic consensus in global climate protection and green transformation. Currently, China is steadily advancing its ecological civilization construction and environment protection in line with its carbon peak and carbon neutrality road maps. The theoretical exploration of the Greens in its ecological modernization thoughts and the latest development in these thoughts could provide a number of enlightening lessons for China in advancing the comprehensive green transformation of its economy and society during the 14th five-year plan period.

First, to adopt green transformation as a systematic project and overall strategy to strengthen top-level design. China may, with the view of achieving economic and social modernization transformation and high-quality development, accurately design the outlooks on wealth and growth in keeping with the times, adopt environment protection and resource saving as extra evaluation standards, make plans with the overall picture in mind, comprehensively deploy the policy targets, timetables and pathways in green transformation actions, and promote benign interactions among relevant sectors.

Second, to further improve the climate governance system. China may, on the basis of dialectical assessment and reference of the concepts, administrative approaches and business models on climate governance by developed countries, develop its own set of concepts, management systems, green products, procedure and standard systems, commercialization of technological finding and green financing mechanisms on climate governance in line with Chinas national conditions, vigorously develop the circular economy, enhance resource utilization efficiency and help foster green ways of production and life.

Third, to vigorously promote the independent R&D of key low-carbon technologies. While strengthening the introduction of key technologies in low-carbon and environment protection field like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen power technology and intensifying joint research between China and other countries, China may foster a policy environment conducive to independent innovation in green technologies. Through key research projects funding and fiscal tools like subsidies and tax reduction, the government may integrate the investment and research forces in the climate protection sector, guide and motivate the participation of market forces, lower dependability on the outside world in key and high-end technologies on climate protection, and comprehensively enhance Chinas independent R&D capacity and international competitiveness.

Fourth, to actively conduct climate diplomacy. Considering that the cooperation and gaming on climate between China, the US and Europe are intensifying in sync, China may actively conduct climate diplomacy and international cooperation to demonstrate to the outside world its firm determination to take the path of green development, take the initiative to guide the setting-up of issues on global climate governance, and actively participate in the making of rules on global green standards, so as to contribute Chinas approach to pathways towards carbon neutrality and global carbon reduction cooperation.

Wu Huiping is a professor from the German Studies Center of Tongji University