Over-reliance on gas delays G7 transition to net-zero power

Three years ago, G7, a group of major industrialized countries that includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, committed to decarbonizing their power systems by 2035. It was a historic and hopeful moment, in which the group demonstrated global leadership, and made a first step toward what needs to become an OECD-wide commitment, according to the recommendation made by the International Energy Agency in its 2050 Net Zero Emission Scenario, setting the world on a pathway to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

As we approach the 2024 G7 summit, the ability of G7 countries to deliver on their power systems decarbonization commitment, not least to address the still-lingering fossil fuel price and cost-of-living crisis, but also to retain their global energy transition leadership, is put under scrutiny. So far, the G7 countries’ actual progress toward this critical goal is a mixed picture of good, bad, and ugly, as new analysis shows.

via G7 Power Systems Scorecard, May 2024, E3G

Most G7 countries are making steps on policy and regulatory adjustments that will facilitate a managed transition.

Grid modernization and deployment is, for example, finally starting to receive the attention it deserves. Some countries, such as the U.S., are also starting to address the issue of long-duration energy storage, which is crucial for a renewables-based power sector.

Coal is firmly on its way out in all G7 countries, except Japan, which is lagging behind its peers. This is where the challenges begin, as things like Japan’s unhealthy relationship with coal risk undermining credibility of the whole group as world leaders on energy transition.

Despite these efforts, all G7 countries are delaying critical decisions to implement transition pathways delivering a resilient, affordable and secure fossil-free power system where renewables – mostly wind and solar – play the dominant role. A tracker by campaign groups shows that other European countries have already engaged firmly in that direction.

Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient.

Further gaps vary by country, but overall, more action is needed on energy efficiency, non-thermal flexibility solutions, and restructuring power markets to facilitate higher renewable electricity and storage uptake. The EU’s recently adopted power market reform provides a solid framework for changes in this direction, at least for the EU-based G7 countries, but it remains to be seen how the EU’s new rules are going to be implemented on the national level.

Overall: Progress made so far is neither uniform, nor sufficient. For one, translation of the G7-wide target into a legislated national commitment is lacking in most G7 countries, in Europe and beyond. Moreover, the chance of G7 countries reaching their 2035 target is at risk, along with their global image as leaders on the energy transition, due to the lack of a clear, time-bound and economically-sound national power sector decarbonization roadmaps. Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

For this change to take off, clear vision on how to decarbonize the ‘last mile’ while providing for a secure, affordable and reliable clean electricity supply, is crucial. Regrettably, today’s G7 long-term vision is betting on one thing: Gas-fired back-up generation. While there are nascent attempts to address the development of long-term storage, grids, flexibility and other balancing solutions, the key focus in most G7 countries is on planning for a massive increase in gas capacity.

Whether 100 percent or overwhelmingly renewables-based by 2035, today’s power systems will need to undergo an unprecedented structural change to get there.

All G7 countries but France have new gas power plants in planning or construction, with the growth shares the biggest in three European countries: Italy’s planning to boost its gas power fleet by 12 percent, the U.K. by 23.5 percent, and Germany by a whopping 28 percent. The US, which consumes one quarter of global gas-in-power demand, has the largest project pipeline in absolute terms – 37.8GW, the fourth largest pipeline in the world.

This gas infrastructure build-out contradicts the real-economy trend: In all European G7 countries gas demand has been dropping at least since the 2021-2022 energy crisis, driven particularly by the power sector decarbonization. Japan’s gas demand peaked in 2007, and Canada’s in 1996 (see IEA gas consumption data). Even G7 governments’ own future energy demand projections show further drop in gas demand by 2030, by one-fifth to one-third of today’s levels in all European G7 countries and Japan, and at least by 6-10 percent in Canada and the U.S.

Maria Pastukhova | Programme Lead – Global Energy Transition, E3G

Most G7 countries argue that this new gas power fleet will be used at a much lower capacity factor as a back-up generation source to balance variable renewables. Some, for example Germany, incentivize new gas power capacity build-out under the label of ‘hydrogen readiness’, assuming that these facilities will run on low-carbon hydrogen starting in 2035. Others, for example Japan or the U.S., are betting on abating gas power generation with carbon capture and storage technologies in the long-term.

Keeping gas power infrastructure in an increasingly renewables-based, decentralized power system using technology that may or may not work in time is a very risky gamble to take given the time left.

G7 countries have got no more than a decade left to act on their commitment to reach net-zero emissions power systems. We have readily-available solutions to deliver the major bulk of the progress needed: Grids, renewables, battery, and other short and mid-duration storage, as well as efficiency improvements. These technologies need to be drastically scaled now, along with additional solutions we will need by 2035, such as long-duration energy storage, digitalization, and educating skilled workers to build and operate those new power systems.

While available and sustainable, these solutions must be deployed now to deliver in time for 2035. Going forward, G7 can’t afford to lose any more time focusing on gas-in-power, which is on the way out anyway and won’t bring the needed structural transformation of the power system.



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Fear, a decisive force in these European elections

As the European Parliament elections approach, a growing sense of fear stemming from multiple — yet mutually reinforcing — sources seems to be the decisive force shaping electoral behaviour. Citizens of the EU experience uncertainty in the face of broad economic and cultural changes occurring at an unprecedented pace, coupled by unforeseen crises, such as Covid and the climate crisis, and the re-emergence of war conflicts, on a continent accustomed to peace for over half a century.

The survey

Last month, more than 10,800 European voters took a stand on the pressing issues and running challenges of the EU, as part of a large-scale comparative survey conducted by Kapa Research across 10 member countries (Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Spain) between May 4 and 24, 2024.

This survey goes beyond domestic dilemmas or voting intentions. Taking a closer look at emerging and established trends within European societies between 2019 and 2024, it examines what shapes the bloc’s social agenda today, citizen concerns about European and international issues, leadership expectations, and opinions about leading global figures. On question after question, responses reveal a strong undercurrent of fear impacting voting behaviour just days before June’s European elections, emanating from four critical realities.

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls.

Fear cause No.1: Economic uncertainty

Rising cost of living is the foremost concern for Europeans heading to the polls. Inflation shocks that have stunned European economies during the post-pandemic period established a deep-rooted unease about people’s ability to make ends meet. Asked about issues that worry them most when thinking of today’s Europe, respondents, at an average of 47 percent , place “rising cost of living” as their top concern. The issue has become remarkably salient in countries like France (58 percent), Greece (55 percent), Romania (54 percent), Spain (49 percent), and Bulgaria (44 percent), yet, still, in the rest of the surveyed member countries the cost of living ends up among the top three causes of concern. This wide sense of economic uncertainty is further spurred by a lingering feeling of unfairness when it comes to the distribution of wealth: M ore than eight out of 10 (81 percent overall) sense that “in Europe, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer”.

via Kapa Research

Anxiety transforms into fear when one realizes that the main political conflict has little to do with competing economic solutions to high living costs. Instead, it is more of a clash between systemic forces and extremists, primarily centred on the field of immigration and the perceived threat to the European way of life.

Fear cause No.2: Immigration

On the cultural front, since 2015, immigration in Europe has been a complex and multifaceted issue, with humanitarian and political implications. In our survey, immigration appears to be the second most important citizen concern with 37 percent (on average), while, at the same time, on the question of which areas should Europe focus on the next five years, calls for “stricter immigration control” are prevalent, with 36 percent of respondents across all surveyed countries ranking it as a top priority. This is notably evident in Germany (56 percent), in spite of its reputation as a welcoming country early in the migration crisis, and in Italy (40 percent), a hub-country into Europe for migrants and refugees. More importantly, the perception of immigration as a “threat to public order” is widespread, with 68 percent of respondents holding this view, compared to only 23 percent who see it as an “opportunity for a new workforce”.

via Kapa Research

Fear cause No.3: War on our doorstep

The return of war to Europe has reignited fears about security; conflicts in Ukraine and, more recently, in Gaza come into play as new factors impacting this year’s EU elections. In this survey, “the Russia-Ukraine war” is the third most pressing concern for 35 percent of respondents, only two percentage points below “immigration ”. Here geographical proximity is crucial as the issue is especially prominent in Estonia (52 percent), Hungary (50 percent), Poland (50 percent), and Romania (43 percent), all neighbouring countries to either Russia or Ukraine. Additionally, demand for immediate ceasefire on both fronts is prevalent: 65 percent believe that hostilities in Gaza “must stop immediately ”, while the same view is supported by 60 percent for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

To this end, as the feeling of danger from wars and terrorism grows stronger, EU-UK relations become indirectly connected to the issue of security: 56% of respondents wish for a (re)alignment between Great Britain and the EU. At the same time, and compared to current leaders, former UK PM Tony Blair enjoys strong popularity ratings.

Fear cause No.4: The unknown reality of AI

Over time, technological advancement has been widely welcomed as a positive development for humanity, as a means of improving living conditions, and as a growth accelerator. The rapid rise of a rtificial i ntelligence in citizens’ day-to-day lives seems to be disrupting this tradition. Among the member countries surveyed, an average majority of 51 percent considers AI more as a “threat to humanity” rather than as an “opportunity” (31 percent ). Along the same vein, scepticism is reflected in the reluctance to embrace AI as a strategic goal for the EU in the next five years, with 54 percent opposing such a move.

via Kapa Research

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies.

Key takeaway

Mixing all four of the above ingredients produces an explosive cocktail of fear within European societies. While combined with the prevalent EU technocracy and the weak institutions-to-citizens communication, it is reasonable to expect mounted distrust and electoral consequences. Voters will use their ballot to send painful messages. However, our survey shows that the great majority still favo r strengthening the European acquis — security, freedom, democracy, growth, and social cohesion — and seek a competent leadership that can defend it.

via Kapa Research

See full survey report by Kapa Research here.



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Pioneering policy leadership in a transformative era

With the European Parliament and U.S. elections looming, Europe is facing policy uncertainties on both sides of the Atlantic. Persistent geopolitical turmoil in Ukraine and the Middle East, and threats to democracy — coupled with concerns over slow economic recovery, demographic shifts, climate hazards and the rapid evolution of powerful AI — all add to the complex global political and economic landscape. Europe’s present and future demands leaders who are capable of effectively navigating multifaceted challenges.

At the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, we are committed to developing a groundbreaking executive program that prepares professionals for multilevel policymaking of the 21st century. Our new EUI Global Executive Master (GEM) aims to transform policy professionals into agents of change and enhance their skills as effective managers and leaders who inspire and drive sustainable change.

Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program.

New leaders wanted

George Papaconstantinou is dean of executive education of the European University Institute, and a former Minister of Finance and Minister of Environment and Energy of Greece. | via European University Institute

Just as public policy has changed in the past 20 years, so has executive education for public policy professionals. Listening and responding to the needs of policy professionals is at the core of our new program. The new GEM takes our commitment to training professionals to respond to today’s cross-border issues to the next level; it stands out from other executive master programs through its dedication to providing a personalized career development journey.

Launching in September 2024, the GEM has a two-year, part-time format, with three week-long study periods in Florence, and two additional visits to global policy hubs. This format, combined with online modules, allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange, building their knowledge, skills, and networks in a structured way.

This allows policy professionals to integrate full-time work commitments with professional growth and peer exchange.

During the first year, EUI GEM participants take four core modules that will set the basis for a comprehensive understanding of the complex task of policymaking, and its interaction with government, the economy and global trends. In the second year, they have the possibility to select courses in one or more of four specializations: energy and climate; economy and finance; tech and governance; and geopolitics and security.

These core and elective courses are complemented by intensive professional development modules and workshops aimed at enhancing skills in the critical areas of change management, project management, strategic foresight, leadership, negotiations, policy communications, and media relations.

Through the final capstone project, EUI GEM participants will address real policy challenges faced by organizations, including their own, proposing solutions based on original research under the guidance of both the organizations concerned and EUI faculty.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience.

In addition, the program includes thematic executive study visits for in-depth insights and first-hand practical experience. Participants attend the EUI State of the Union Conference in Florence, a flagship event that brings together global leaders to reflect on the most pressing issues of the European agenda. They explore the role of strategic foresight in EU institutions’ policy planning through an executive study visit to Brussels, complemented by dedicated training sessions and networking opportunities. A final Global Challenge study visit aims to encourage participants to engage with local policy stakeholders.

Bridging academia and practice

Since its inaugural executive training course in 2004, the EUI has successfully trained over 23,000 professionals of approximately 160 nationalities, in almost 600 courses. The EUI GEM leverages this expertise by merging the academic and practical policy expertise from our Florence School of Transnational Governance and the Robert Schuman Centre, as well as the academic excellence in the EUI departments.

The EUI GEM’s aspiration to bridge the gap between academia and practice is also reflected in the faculty line-up, featuring leading academics, private-sector experts, and policymakers who bring invaluable expertise into a peer-learning environment that fosters both learning and exchange with policy professionals.

Effective, agile and inclusive governance involves interaction and mutual learning between the public sector, the private sector and civil society actors, all acting as change agents. That is why our program is designed to bring innovative perspectives on public policy from all three: the public and the private sector, as well as civil society, and we welcome applications from all three sectors. 

An inspiring environment

EUI GEM participants spend 25 days in residence at the magnificent Palazzo Buontalenti, headquarters of our Florence School of Transnational Governance. The former Medici palace harbors art-historical treasures in the heart of Florence. In September 2024, a dedicated executive education center will be inaugurated at Palazzo Buontalenti, coinciding with the arrival of the participants of the first GEM cohort.

The GEM is poised to redefine the standards for executive education and empower a new generation of policy practitioners. We are ambitious and bold, and trust that our first cohort will be, too. After all, they are the first to embark on this adventure of a new program. We can’t wait to welcome them here in Florence, where the journey to shape the future begins. Will you join us?

Learn more about the EUI Global Executive Master.

The EUI Global Executive Master | via European University Institute



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We can tackle climate change, jobs, growth and global trade. Here’s what’s stopping us

We must leave behind established modes of thinking and seek creative workable solutions.

Another tumultuous year has confirmed that the global economy is at a turning point. We face four big challenges: the climate transition; the good-jobs problem; an economic-development crisis, and the search for a newer, healthier form of globalization.

To address each, we must leave behind established modes of thinking and seek creative workable solutions, while recognizing that these efforts will be necessarily uncoordinated and experimental.

Climate change is the most daunting challenge, and the one that has been overlooked the longest — at great cost. If we are to avoid condemning humanity to a dystopian future, we must act fast to decarbonize the global economy. We have long known that we must wean ourselves from fossil fuels, develop green alternatives and shore up our defenses against the lasting environmental damage that past inaction has already caused. However, it has become clear that little of this is likely to be achieved through global cooperation or economists’ favored policies.

Instead, individual countries will forge ahead with their own green agendas, implementing policies that best account for their specific political constraints, as the United States, China and the European Union have been doing. The result will be a hodge-podge of emission caps, tax incentives, research and development support, and green industrial policies with little global coherence and occasional costs for other countries. Messy though it may be, an uncoordinated push for climate action may be the best we can realistically hope for.

Inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and labor-market polarization have caused significant damage to our social environment.

But our physical environment is not the only threat we face. Inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and labor-market polarization have caused equally significant damage to our social environment. The consequences are now widely evident. Economic, regional, and cultural gaps within countries are widening, and liberal democracy (and the values that support it) appears to be in decline, reflecting rising support for xenophobic, authoritarian populists and the growing backlash against scientific and technical expertise.

Social transfers and the welfare state can help, but what is most needed is an increase in the supply of good jobs for the less-educated workers who have lost access to them. We need more productive, well-remunerated employment opportunities that can provide dignity and social recognition for those without a college degree. Expanding the supply of such jobs will require not only more investment in education and more robust defense of workers’ rights, but also a new brand of industrial policies for services, where the bulk of future employment will be created.

The disappearance of manufacturing jobs over time reflects both greater automation and stronger global competition. Developing countries have not been immune to either factor. Many have experienced “premature de-industrialization”: their absorption of workers into formal, productive manufacturing firms is now very limited, which means they are precluded from pursuing the kind of export-oriented development strategy that has been so effective in East Asia and a few other countries. Together with the climate challenge, this crisis of growth strategies in low-income countries calls for an entirely new development model.

Governments will have to experiment, combining investment in the green transition with productivity enhancements in labor-absorbing services.

As in the advanced economies, services will be low- and middle-income countries’ main source of employment creation. But most services in these economies are dominated by very small, informal enterprises — often sole proprietorships — and there are essentially no ready-made models of service-led development to emulate. Governments will have to experiment, combining investment in the green transition with productivity enhancements in labor-absorbing services.

Finally, globalization itself must be reinvented. The post-1990 hyper-globalization model has been overtaken by the rise of U.S.-China geopolitical competition, and by the higher priority placed on domestic social, economic, public-health, and environmental concerns. No longer fit for purpose, globalization as we know it will have to be replaced by a new understanding that rebalances national needs and the requirements of a healthy global economy that facilitates international trade and long-term foreign investment.

Most likely, the new globalization model will be less intrusive, acknowledging the needs of all countries (not just major powers) that want greater policy flexibility to address domestic challenges and national-security imperatives. One possibility is that the U.S. or China will take an overly expansive view of its security needs, seeking global primacy (in the U.S. case) or regional domination (China). The result would be a “weaponization” of economic interdependence and significant economic decoupling, with trade and investment treated as a zero-sum game.

The biggest gift major powers can give to the world economy is to manage their own domestic economies well.

But there could also be a more favorable scenario in which both powers keep their geopolitical ambitions in check, recognizing that their competing economic goals are better served through accommodation and cooperation. This scenario might serve the global economy well, even if — or perhaps because — it falls short of hyper-globalization. As the Bretton Woods era showed, a significant expansion of global trade and investment is compatible with a thin model of globalization, wherein countries retain considerable policy autonomy with which to foster social cohesion and economic growth at home. The biggest gift major powers can give to the world economy is to manage their own domestic economies well.

All these challenges call for new ideas and frameworks. We do not need to throw conventional economics out the window. But to remain relevant, economists must learn to apply the tools of their trade to the objectives and constraints of the day. They will have to be open to experimentation, and sympathetic if governments engage in actions that do not conform to the playbooks of the past.

Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at Harvard Kennedy School, is president of the International Economic Association and the author of Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy (Princeton University Press, 2017).

This commentary was published with the permission of Project Syndicate — Confronting Our Four Biggest Economic Challenges

More: Biden administration’s antitrust victories are much-needed wins for consumers

Also read: ‘Dr. Doom’ Nouriel Roubini: ‘Worst-case scenarios appear to be the least likely.’ For now.

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Speed is everything for patients: together we can bring medicines faster

Working in our industry brings huge responsibility. We deal with people’s lives, and our  medicines give people an opportunity to improve their health, often at the most overwhelming time for them. I had a strong reminder of that recently.

Last month, I met with a colleague, Heiko, who lives in Germany. His young daughter has central nervous system (CNS) neuroblastoma — a type of cancer that tends to affect children under the age of five.

Heiko and his family have been navigating the health system for months, including an overload of information in the form of complex ‘oncological-speak’, treatment guidelines and health insurance claims. They have also been dealing with constant travel to specialist centers — all while juggling the emotional burden of caring for a sick child and the daily challenges of home and work life.

He shared something that stuck in my mind the night I spoke with him, which serves as an important reminder for all of us working in health care.

“Trust must be bigger than fear.”

When their health is at stake, friends, families and colleagues put their trust in their local health care system — every part of it, including industry — in the hope of protecting the future for them and their loved ones.

As Heiko put it to me, “Speed is everything. If you gain enough speed, you gain enough time. And if you have time, you have the hope of more options that can help you.”

Faster, more equitable access to new, life-saving medicines for people living in Europe is a goal that I believe we all share. There are challenges in achieving this, but we at Roche are committed to addressing these, together with everyone involved.

It is the inequality in access to medicines that is untenable.

Teresa Graham, CEO, Roche Pharmaceuticals, and chair EFPIA’s Patient Access Committee | via EFPIA

The average time that patients in the EU wait to get access to a new medicine is around 517 days. Uptake of new technologies can be low and slow, but it is the inequality in access to medicines that is untenable. If you have cancer in Germany, you may need to wait, on average, 128 days to access a new medicine, but if you are a patient in Romania it will take you 918 days to receive the same treatment.

I am concerned that Europe’s policymakers believe this can be fixed with legislation alone. And, even if it could, families like Heiko’s do not have the luxury of waiting four to five years for the ongoing revision to the EU pharmaceutical legislation to attempt to resolve these issues.

Improving access to medicines requires solutions that are developed in partnership with everyone who has a stake in their delivery: industry, member states, health regulators, payers, patients and health care providers. With the right ambition and desire for collaboration, we can act now.

The crucial first step is for governments and policymakers to treat spending on health care and innovation as an investment in economic growth and societal advancement. Improving health care and expanding access to innovation are vital for reducing pressure on health care systems, maintaining a healthy and productive society, and driving future economic growth.

Governments and policymakers have a pivotal role in enabling and encouraging this cycle of improved health and economic benefit. We must take a strategic view of investing in innovation, acknowledging the wider societal value it provides, and find sustainable ways to manage immediate fiscal challenges that do not limit or delay access to new medicines and technologies.

The industry is also driving changes. One concrete commitment pharmaceutical companies have made is to file new medicines for pricing and reimbursement in all member states within two years of EU approval of a new medicine. This will improve timely access to the latest innovations.

The industry has also established a portal for tracking access delays and ensuring companies are held accountable in meeting the two-year filing commitment.

With the right ambition and desire for collaboration, we can act now.

With multiple ongoing legislative changes currently taking place in Europe — from the revision of the EU’s Pharmaceutical Legislation, to the EU’s reform of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and the introduction of the European Health Data Space (EHDS) — we have a unique opportunity to build a stronger and better European environment for life sciences and health care that serves patients’ best interests. One major opportunity for collaboration is the implementation of the EU’s HTA regulation. This aims to address access delays by streamlining and accelerating highly fragmented HTA processes across Europe. There is only one year to go before this either becomes a meaningful contributor to faster access decisions for patients or — if not adequately in focus during 2024 — risks becoming an additional hurdle for patient access to essential treatments. In order to avoid this scenario, industry involvement in the implementation of EU HTA is crucial to leverage expertise, co-design relevant processes, and ultimately ensure a workable system.

Such actions can reduce some of the delays in accessing new medicines, but they will not solve everything. The majority of delays come from the variation and delays in individual countries’ reimbursement and health care systems. That is why it is critical that member states, payers and health systems collaborate with industry to develop tailored access solutions. 

However, there are also proposals on the table today that are concerning and at face value will not lead to improved access for patients. For instance, the EU Commission is proposing to reduce a company’s intellectual property rights — specifically regulatory data protection (RDP) — if a medicine is not available in all member states within two years of receiving marketing authorisation. This would only hinder innovation, without delivering faster, more equitable access to new medicines.

If this were to go ahead as proposed, Europe would become a less attractive place for research. A recently-published study on the impact of the European Commission’s proposal estimated that it would reduce Europe’s share of global R&D investment by one-third by 2040.

I firmly believe this proposal must be reconsidered and focused on policy solutions that ensure patients in Europe continue to benefit from innovation.

As Heiko says, speed, time and hope are all people have. Often, patients are waiting for the next innovation, during which time, their disease progresses or their condition deteriorates. This makes the next clinical trial, the next regulatory approval, the next standard of care, the next reimbursement decision absolutely vital for those who simply cannot wait.

Across industry, there are more than 8,000 new medicines in the global pipeline today. This is the hope Heiko needs, and families like his are trusting us all to deliver.

Speaking with Heiko reminded me that the most effective treatment is the one that makes it to the patient when they need it. It is now our collective responsibility to find the path to making this happen for patients everywhere in Europe.



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Making water the engine for climate action

Much progress has been made on water security over recent decades, yet for the first time in human history, our collective actions have pushed the global water cycle out of balance. Water is life: it is essential for health, food, energy, socioeconomic development, nature and livable cities. It is hardly surprising that the climate and biodiversity crises are also a water crisis, where one reinforces the other. Already, a staggering four billion people suffer from water scarcity  for at least one month a year and two billion people lack access to safely-managed drinking water. By 2030, global water demand will exceed availability by 40 percent. By 2050, climate-driven water scarcity could impact the economic growth of some regions by up to 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product per year.

Meike van Ginneken, Water Envoy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Right now, the world’s first Global Stocktake is assessing the progress being made toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and global leaders are convening at COP28 in Dubai to agree on a way forward. We have a critical opportunity to catalyze global ambition and recognize that water is how climate change manifests itself. While wealthier, more resilient nations may be able to manage the devastating impacts of climate change, these same challenges are disastrous for lesser developed, more vulnerable communities.

Rainfall, the source of all freshwater, is becoming more erratic. Changes in precipitation, evaporation and soil moisture are creating severe food insecurity. Droughts trap farmers in poverty, as the majority of cultivated land is rain-fed. Extreme drought reduces growth in developing countries by about 0.85 percentage points. Melting glaciers, sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion jeopardize freshwater supplies. Floods destroy infrastructure, damage homes and disrupt livelihoods. The 2022 Pakistan floods affected 33 million people and more than 1,730 lost their lives, while 2023 saw devastating floods in Libya among other places.  

Now more than ever, it is urgent that we work together to make water the engine of climate action. Already, many countries are investing in technology and climate-resilient water infrastructure. Yet, we need more than technology and engineering to adapt to a changing climate. To advance global water action, we must radically change the way we understand, value and manage water with an emphasis on two necessary measures.

First, we need to make water availability central to our economic planning and decision-making. We need to rethink where and how we grow our food, where we build our cities, and where we plan our industries. We cannot continue to grow thirsty crops in drylands or drain wetlands and cut down forests to raise our cattle. In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.

In a changing climate, water availability needs to guide where we undertake economic activity.  

Second, we must restore and protect natural freshwater stocks, our buffers against extreme climate events. Natural freshwater storage is how we save water for dry periods and freshwater storage capacity is how we store rainwater to mitigate floods. 99 percent of freshwater storage is in nature. We need to halt the decline of groundwater, wetlands and floodplains. But our challenge is not only about surface and groundwater bodies, or blue water. We also need to preserve and restore our green water stocks, or the water that remains in the soil after rainfall. To reduce the decline of blue water and preserve green water, we need to implement water-friendly crop-management practices and incorporate key stakeholders, such as farmers, into the decision-making process.

Addressing the urgency of the global water crisis goes beyond the water sector. It requires transformative changes at every level of society. National climate plans such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans are key instruments to make water an organizing principle to spatial, economic and investment planning. Much like the Netherlands did earlier this year when the Dutch parliament adopted a policy that makes water and soil guiding principles in all our spatial planning decisions. Right now, about 90 percent of all countries’ NDCs prioritize action on water for adaptation. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans are drivers of integrated planning and have the potential to unlock vast investments, yet including targets for water is only a first step.

To drive global action, the Netherlands and the Republic of Tajikistan co-hosted the United Nations 2023 Water Conference, bringing the world together for a bold Water Action Agenda to accelerate change across sectors and deliver on the water actions in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. To elevate the agenda’s emphasis on accelerating implementation and improved impact, the Netherlands is contributing an additional €5 million to the NDC Partnership to support countries to mitigate the impacts of climate change, reduce water-related climate vulnerability and increase public and private investments targeting water-nexus opportunities. As a global coalition of over 200 countries and international institutions, the NDC Partnership is uniquely positioned to support countries to enhance the integration of water in formulating, updating, financing and implementing countries’ NDCs.

One example showcasing the importance of incorporating water management into national planning comes from former NDC Partnership co-chair and climate leader, Jamaica. Jamaica’s National Water Commission (NWC), one of the largest electricity consumers in the country, mobilized technical assistance to develop an integrated energy efficiency and renewables program to reduce its energy intensity, building up the resilience of the network, while helping reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. With additional support from the Netherlands, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), together with Global Water Partnership (GWP)-Caribbean, the government of Jamaica will ensure the National Water Commission is well equipped for the future. Implementation of climate commitments and the requisite financing to do so are key to ensuring targets like these are met.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world.

Water has the power to connect. The Netherlands is reaching out to the world. We are committed to providing political leadership and deploying our know-how for a more water-secure world. As we look towards the outcomes of the Global Stocktake and COP28, it is essential that we make water the engine of climate action. 



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How to get tech right in Europe?

As our societies navigate challenging times and undergo widespread digital transformation, fostering growth in our homegrown tech businesses has never been more critical to achieving the wider goals of the European project.

Via EUTA. Kristin Skogen Lund, president, European Tech Alliance; CEO, Schibsted

The European Tech Alliance (EUTA) represents leading tech companies born and bred in Europe. We believe that with the right conditions, EU tech companies can enhance Europe’s resilience, boost our technological autonomy, protect and empower consumers, and promote European values such as transparency, the rule of law and innovation to the rest of the world.

The European Commission’s ambitious targets for 2030 in the Digital Decade program represent a vision for a sustainable and more prosperous digital future. However, more is needed if we are to achieve our goals.

Europe must boost its tech competitiveness over the next five years. To unlock European tech leadership both at home and beyond, we need to have an ambitious EU tech strategy to overcome growth obstacles, to make a political commitment to clear, targeted and risk-based rules, and to pursue consistent enforcement to match the globalized market we are in.

An EU strategy for European tech

We need a strategy for European tech that empowers digital companies to grow and use new innovation tools to deliver the best services and products, including personalized experiences, to their users. European tech companies are valuable assets for Europe. They deserve to be nurtured and supported.

Europe must boost its tech competitiveness over the next five years.

In practice, this could take on several forms. For instance, we need to unlock the power of data as a key lever for innovation while respecting consumer privacy. Privacy-enhancing technologies and pseudonymization should be further promoted by lawmakers and regulators to empower European companies to use data, grow and remain competitive.

A European strategy for talent to enhance European companies’ attractiveness could also be pursued. Developers should be pushing the limits of innovation, using their imaginations to improve the services and products from European companies, rather than focusing their unique talents on compliance tasks.

Lastly, EU tech companies should have a seat at the table when proposed rules affect their ability to invest in Europe and to provide good services, products and experiences. Bringing in expertise from the ground up would facilitate the growth of European champions at global, national and regional level.

Smart rules for a stronger Europe

The digital world is a fully-regulated sector with a wide range of new and updated rules. It is essential to give these rules time to play out before assessing their efficiency and impact on EU tech companies.

For instance, the EU’s consumer protection framework was recently updated with the ‘Omnibus Directive’. These new rules started applying from May 2022 onward only, yet they were up for another partial revision less than a year later. Businesses need time to put rules into practice, and lawmakers need time to analyze their effects in the real world, before amending the rulebook once again.

European, national and regional measures should complement each other, not clash or duplicate efforts. The ink of the Digital Services Act (DSA) was not even dry when some EU countries added extra layers of regulation at national level, such as the French law for online influencers and the proposed bill to secure and regulate the digital space. There must be a strong focus on avoiding national fragmentation where EU laws exist. Otherwise we are moving further away from a truly single market that is the cornerstone of European competitiveness.      

Where EU rules are needed, lawmakers should focus on concrete problems and be mindful of different tech business models, for example, retailers vs. marketplaces; new vs. second-hand goods, streaming vs. social media. Rules should address problems with specific business models instead of a one-size-fits-all approach or dictating specific product designs. Any proposed solution should also be proportionate to the problem identified.

Better enforcement for fairer competition

One of the big problems we face in Europe is ensuring a level playing field for all businesses, to achieve fair competition. The EU has enshrined these values in the Digital Markets Act (DMA). We must not lose sight of this ambition as we turn to the all-important task of enforcement of the DMA.

European, national and regional measures should complement each other, not clash or duplicate efforts.

Better cooperation should be encouraged between regulatory authorities at national level (for example, consumer, competition and data protection) but also among European countries and with the EU to ensure coherent application.

Now that the European Commission takes on the new role of rule enforcer, it’s of paramount importance to place a strong focus on independence, separate from political interests. This will ensure a robust and impartial enforcement mechanism that upholds the integrity of the regulatory framework.

What’s next?

European tech companies in the EUTA believe the EU can take two crucial steps for our competitiveness, so we can continue to invest in Europe’s technological innovation and European consumers.

First, the EU digital single market is incomplete, we need to avoid 27 different interpretations of the same EU rules. A strong harmonization push is needed for EU companies to grow faster across the Continent.

Second, we look toward the EU, national governments and authorities to bring economic competitiveness and innovation to the core of regulation, and then to enforce these rules fairly and equally.

EUTA members are companies born and bred in Europe. The EU is a crucial market and we are deeply committed to European citizens and European values. With our EUTA manifesto, we propose a vision so Europe can succeed, and our own European champions can grow and become global leaders.



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The state of the planet in 10 numbers

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM.

The COP28 climate summit comes at a critical moment for the planet. 

A summer that toppled heat records left a trail of disasters around the globe. The world may be just six years away from breaching the Paris Agreement’s temperature target of 1.5 degrees Celsius, setting the stage for much worse calamities to come. And governments are cutting their greenhouse gas pollution far too slowly to head off the problem — and haven’t coughed up the billions of dollars they promised to help poorer countries cope with the damage.

This year’s summit, which starts on Nov. 30 in Dubai, will conclude the first assessment of what countries have achieved since signing the Paris accord in 2015. 

The forgone conclusion: They’ve made some progress. But not enough. The real question is what they do in response.

To help understand the stakes, here’s a snapshot of the state of the planet — and global climate efforts — in 10 numbers. 

1.3 degrees Celsius

Global warming since the preindustrial era  

Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions have been driving global temperatures skyward since the 19th century, when the industrial revolution and the mass burning of fossil fuels began to affect the Earth’s climate. The world has already warmed by about 1.3 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and most of that warming has occurred since the 1970s. In the last 50 years, research suggests, global temperatures have risen at their fastest rate in at least 2,000 years.  

This past October concluded the Earth’s hottest 12-month span on record, a recent analysis found. And 2023 is virtually certain to be the hottest calendar year ever observed. It’s continuing a string of recent record-breakers — the world’s five hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015. 

Allowing warming to pass 2 degrees Celsius would tip the world into catastrophic changes, scientists have warned, including life-threatening heat extremes, worsening storms and wildfires, crop failures, accelerating sea level rise and existential threats to some coastal communities and small island nations. Eight years ago in Paris, nearly every nation on Earth agreed to strive to keep temperatures well below that threshold, and under a more ambitious 1.5-degree threshold if at all possible. 

But with just fractions of a degree to go, that target is swiftly approaching — and many experts say it’s already all but out of reach.

$4.3 trillion  

Global economic losses from climate disasters since 1970  

Climate-related disasters are worsening as temperatures rise. Heat waves are intensifying, tropical cyclones are strengthening, floods and droughts are growing more severe and wildfires are blazing bigger. Record-setting events struck all over the planet this year, a harbinger of new extremes to come. Scientists say such events will only accelerate as the world warms. 

Nearly 12,000 weather, climate and water-related disasters struck worldwide over the last five decades, the World Meteorological Organization reports. They’ve caused trillions of dollars in damage, and they’ve killed more than 2 million people.  

Ninety percent of these deaths have occurred in developing countries. Compared with wealthier nations, these countries have historically contributed little to the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming – yet they disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change.  

4.4 millimeters  

Annual rate of sea level rise

Global sea levels are rapidly rising as the ice sheets melt and the oceans warm and expand. Scientists estimate that they’re now rising by about 4.4 millimeters, or about 0.17 inches, each year – and that rate is accelerating, increasing by about 1 millimeter every decade.

Those sound like small numbers. They’re not.  

The world’s ice sheets and glaciers are losing a whopping 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year. Those losses are also speeding up, accelerating by at least 57 percent since the 1990s. Future sea level rise mainly depends on future ice melt, which depends on future greenhouse gas emissions. With extreme warming, global sea levels will likely rise as much as 3 feet by the end of this century, enough to swamp many coastal communities, threaten freshwater supplies and submerge some small island nations.  

Some places are more vulnerable than others. 

“Low-lying islands in the Pacific are on the frontlines of the fight against sea level rise,” said NASA sea level expert Benjamin Hamlington. “In the U.S., the Southeast and Gulf Coasts are experiencing some of the highest rates of sea level rise in the world and have very high future projections of sea level.”  

But in the long run, he added, “almost every coastline around the world is going to experience sea level rise and will feel impacts.”

Less than 6 years

When the world could breach the 1.5-degree threshold

The world is swiftly running out of time to meet its most ambitious international climate target: keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Humans can emit only another 250 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and maintain at least even odds of meeting that goal, scientists say. 

That pollution threshold could arrive in as little as six years.

That’s the bottom line from at least two recent studies, one published in June and one in October. Humans are pouring about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, with each ton eating into the margin of error.  

The size of that carbon buffer is smaller than previous estimates have suggested, indicating that time is running out even faster than expected.  

“While our research shows it is still physically possible for the world to remain below 1.5C, it’s difficult to see how that will stay the case for long,” said Robin Lamboll, a scientist at Imperial College London and lead author of the most recent study. “Unfortunately, net-zero dates for this target are rapidly approaching, without any sign that we are meeting them.”

43 percent 

How much greenhouse gas emissions must fall by 2030 to hit the temperature target

The world would have to undergo a stark transformation during this decade to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement’s ambitious 1.5-degree cap. 

In a nutshell, global greenhouse gas emissions have to fall 43 percent by 2030, and 60 percent by 2035, before reaching net-zero by mid-century, according to a U.N. report published in September on the progress the world has made since signing the Paris Agreement. That would give the world a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. 

But based on the climate pledges that countries have made to date, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to fall by just 2 percent this decade, according to a U.N. assessment published this month

Governments are “taking baby steps to avert the climate crisis,” U.N. climate chief Simon Stiell said in a statement this month. “This means COP28 must be a clear turning point.” 

$1 trillion a year 

Climate funding needs of developing countries

In many ways, U.N. climate summits are all about finance. Cutting industries’ carbon pollution, protecting communities from extreme weather, rebuilding after climate disasters — it all costs money. And developing countries, in particular, don’t have enough of it. 

As financing needs grow, pressure is mounting on richer nations such as the U.S. that have produced the bulk of planet-warming emissions to help developing countries cut their own pollution and adapt to a warmer world. They also face growing calls to pay for the destruction wrought by climate change, known as loss and damage in U.N.-speak. 

But the flow of money from rich to poor countries has slowed. In October, a pledging conference to replenish the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund raised only $9.3 billion, even less than the $10 billion that countries had promised last time. An overdue promise by developed countries to deliver $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to rising temperatures was “likely” met last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said this month, while warning that adaptation finance had fallen by 14 percent in 2021. 

As a result, the gap between what developing countries need and how much money is flowing in their direction is growing. The OECD report said developing countries will need around $1 trillion a year for climate investments by 2025, “rising to roughly $2.4 trillion each year between 2026 and 2030.”

$7 trillion 

Worldwide fossil fuel subsidies in 2022

In stark contrast to the trickle of climate finance, fossil fuel subsidies have surged in recent years. In 2022, total spending on subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal reached a record $7 trillion, the International Monetary Fund said in August. That’s $2 trillion more than in 2020. 

Explicit subsidies — direct government support to reduce energy prices — more than doubled since 2020, to $1.3 trillion. But the majority of subsidies are implicit, representing the fact that governments don’t require fossil fuel companies to pay for the health and environmental damage that their products inflict on society. 

At the same time, countries continue pumping public and private money into fossil fuel production. This month, a U.N. report found that governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the 1.5-degree target. 

66,000 square kilometers

Gross deforestation worldwide in 2022

At the COP26 climate summit two years ago in Glasgow, Scotland, nations committed to halting global deforestation by 2030. A total of 145 countries have signed the Glasgow Forest Declaration, representing more than 90 percent of global forest cover. 

Yet global action is still falling short of that target. The annual Forest Declaration Assessment, produced by a collection of research and civil society organizations, estimated that the world lost 66,000 square kilometers of forest last year, or about 25,000 square miles — a swath of territory slightly larger than West Virginia or Lithuania. Most of that loss came from tropical forests. 

Halting deforestation is a critical component of global climate action. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that collective contributions from agriculture, forestry and land use compose as much as 21 percent of global human-caused carbon emissions. Deforestation releases large volumes of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, and recent research suggests that carbon losses from tropical forests may have doubled since the early 2000s.  

Almost 1 billion tons

The annual carbon dioxide removal gap 

Given the world’s slow pace in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, scientists say a second approach is essential for slowing the Earth’s warming — removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The technology for doing this is largely untested at scale, and won’t be cheap.  

A landmark report on carbon dioxide removals led by the University of Oxford earlier this year found that keeping warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less would require countries to collectively remove an additional 0.96 billion tons of CO2-equivalent a year by 2030.

About 2 billion tons are now removed every year, but that is largely achieved through the natural absorption capacity of forests. 

Removing even more carbon will require countries to massively scale up carbon removal technologies, given the limited capacity of forests to absorb more carbon dioxide. 

Carbon removal technologies are in the spotlight at COP28, though some countries and companies want to use them to meet net-zero while continuing to burn fossil fuels. Scientists have been clear that carbon removal cannot be a substitute for steep emissions cuts. 

1,000 gigawatts 

Annual growth in renewable power capacity needed to keep 1.5 degrees in reach  

The shift from fossil fuels to renewables is underway, but the transition is still far too slow to meet the Paris Agreement targets. 

To keep 1.5 degrees within reach, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that the world needs to add 1,000 gigawatts in renewable energy capacity every year through 2030. By comparison, the United States’ entire utility-scale electricity-generation capacity was about 1,160 gigawatts last year, according to the Department of Energy.

Last year, countries added about 300 gigawatts, according to the agency’s latest World Energy Transitions Outlook published in June. 

That shortfall has prompted the EU and the climate summit’s host nation, the United Arab Emirates, to campaign for nations to sign up to a target to triple the world’s renewable capacity by 2030 at COP28, a goal also supported by the U.S. and China.

“The transition to clean energy is happening worldwide and it’s unstoppable,” International Energy Agency boss Fatih Birol said last month. “It’s not a question of ‘if’, it’s just a matter of ‘how soon’ – and the sooner the better for all of us.”

This article is part of the Road to COP special report, presented by SQM. The article is produced with full editorial independence by POLITICO reporters and editors. Learn more about editorial content presented by outside advertisers.



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It’s time to hang up on the old telecoms rulebook

Joakim Reiter | via Vodafone

Around 120 years ago, Guglielmo Marconi planted the seeds of a communications revolution, sending the first message via a wireless link over open water. “Are you ready? Can you hear me?”, he said. Now, the telecommunications industry in Europe needs policymakers to heed that call, to realize the vision set by its 19th-century pioneers.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution. Mobile networks are becoming programmable platforms — supercomputers that will fundamentally underpin European industrial productivity, growth and competitiveness. Combined with cloud, AI and the internet of things, the era of industrial internet will transform our economy and way of life, bringing smarter cities, energy grids and health care, as well as autonomous transport systems, factories and more to the real world.

5G is already connecting smarter, autonomous factory technologies | via Vodafone

Europe should be at the center of this revolution, just as it was in the early days of modern communications.

Next-generation telecommunications are catalyzing a transformation on par with the industrial revolution.

Even without looking at future applications, the benefits of a healthy telecoms industry for society are clear to see. Mobile technologies and services generated 5 percent of global GDP, equivalent to €4.3 trillion, in 2021. More than five billion people around the world are connected to mobile services — more people today have access to mobile communications than they do to safely-managed sanitation services. And with the combination of satellite solutions, the prospect of ensuring every person on the planet is connected may soon be within reach.

Satellite solutions, combined with mobile communications, could eliminate coverage gaps | via Vodafone

In our recent past, when COVID-19 spread across the world and societies went into lockdown, connectivity became critical for people to work from home, and for enabling schools and hospitals to offer services online.  And with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when millions were forced to flee the safety of their homes, European network operators provided heavily discounted roaming and calling to ensure refugees stayed connected with loved ones.

A perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe.

These are all outcomes and opportunities, depending on the continuous investment of telecoms’ private companies.

And yet, a perfect storm of rising investment costs, inflationary pressures, interest rate hikes and intensifying competition from adjacent industries is bearing down on telecoms businesses across Europe. The war on our continent triggered a 15-fold increase in wholesale energy prices and rapid inflation. EU telecoms operators have been under pressure ever since to keep consumer prices low during a cost-of-living crisis, while confronting rapidly growing operational costs as a result. At the same time, operators also face the threat of billions of euros of extra, unforeseen costs as governments change their operating requirements in light of growing geopolitical concerns.

Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The odds are dangerously stacked against the long-term sustainability of our industry and, as a result, Europe’s own digital ambitions. Telecoms operators may be resilient. But they are not invincible.

The signs of Europe’s decline are obvious for those willing to take a closer look. European countries are lagging behind in 5G mobile connectivity, while other parts of the world — including Thailand, India and the Philippines — race ahead. Independent research by OpenSignal shows that mobile users in South Korea have an active 5G connection three times more often than those in Germany, and more than 10 times their counterparts in Belgium.

Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Average 5G connectivity in Brazil is more than three times faster than in Czechia or Poland. A recent report from the European Commission — State of the Digital Decade (europa.eu) shows just how far Europe needs to go to reach the EU’s connectivity targets for 2030.

To arrest this decline, and successfully meet EU’s digital ambitions, something has got to give. Europe needs a joined-up regulatory, policy and investment approach that restores the failing investment climate and puts the telecoms sector back to stable footing.

Competition, innovation and efficient investment are the driving forces for the telecoms sector today. It’s time to unleash these powers — not blindly perpetuate old rules. We agree with Commissioner Breton’s recent assessment: Europe needs to redefine the DNA of its telecoms regulation. It needs a new rulebook that encourages innovation and investment, and embraces the logic of a true single market. It must reduce barriers to growth and scale in the sector and ensure spectrum — the lifeblood of our industry — is managed more efficiently. And it must find faster, futureproofed ways to level the playing field for all business operating in the wider digital sector.  

But Europe is already behind, and we are running out of time. It is critical that the EU finds a balance between urgent, short-term measures and longer-term reforms. It cannot wait until 2025 to implement change.

Europeans deserve better communications technology | via Vodafone

When Marconi sent that message back in 1897, the answer to his question was, “loud and clear”. As Europe’s telecoms ministers convene this month in León, Spain, their message must be loud and clear too. European citizens and businesses deserve better communications. They deserve a telecoms rulebook that ensures networks can deliver the next revolution in digital connectivity and services.



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Decline, fear and the AfD in Germany

Mathias Döpfner is chairman and CEO of Axel Springer, POLITICO’s parent company.

In Germany today, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) is maintaining a stable 20 percent in opinion polls — coming in two to four points ahead of the ruling center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and running hard on the heels of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

In some federal states, the AfD is already the strongest party. In Thuringia, for example, it has reached 34 percent, meaning the party has three times as many supporters there as the SPD. And in some administrative districts, around half of those eligible to vote are leaning toward the AfD. According to one Forsa survey in June, the AfD is currently the strongest party in the east of Germany — a worrying trend with elections due this year in Bavaria and Hesse, and next year in Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg. And, of course, there are also the European Union elections in 2024.

However, this rapid rise should come as no surprise. The writing has been on the wall for a long time. And more than anything else, the party’s recent advances are a result of an increasing sense among broad swathes of the population that they aren’t being represented by traditional political and media elites.

This disconnect was first accelerated by the refugee crisis of 2015, then increased during the pandemic, and has since escalated in response to the increasing high-handedness of the “woke movement” and climate politics. Just a few weeks ago, a survey by the German Civil Service Association revealed trust in the government’s ability to do its job is at an all-time low, with 69 percent saying it is deeply out of its depth.

Meanwhile, opinion polls show the government fares particularly badly in Germany’s east. A rising number of people — including the otherwise stable but also staid middle classes — now feel enough is enough, and no other party is as good at exploiting this feeling as the AfD.

The problem, however, is the AfD isn’t a normal democratic party.

The regional offices of Germany’s domestic intelligence services in the federal states of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg have all classified their local AfD associations as “organizations of interest.”

And the same applies at the federal level. The national office of the domestic intelligence service, the remit of which includes protecting the German constitution, has also classified the national party of the AfD as “of interest.”

These concerns about the party’s commitment to the constitution aren’t unjustified. In a 2018 speech at the national conference of the party’s youth section, Junge Alternative, former AfD chairman Alexander Gauland said that “Hitler and the Nazis are just a speck of bird shit in a thousand years of successful German history.”

When speaking about the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Björn Höcke, group chairman of the AfD in Thuringia, said on 2017 that “We Germans — and I’m not talking about you patriots who have gathered here today. We Germans, our people, are the only people in the world to place a monument of shame in the heart of our capital city.”

And in a speech in the Bundestag in 2018, party boss Alice Weidel bandied about terms like “headscarf girls” and “knife-wielding men,” while her co-chairman Tino Chrupalla speaks of an “Umvolkung” — that is, an “ethnicity inversion” — which comes straight out of Nazi ideology.

This small sample of public statements leaves no doubt that such utterings aren’t slips of the tongue — they reflect these leaders’ core beliefs.

And while many vote for the AfD out of protest, more than anything else, the party feeds off resentment and fear, exploiting and fueling anger, hate and envy, pushing conspiracy theories to hit out at “those at the top,” as well as foreigners, Jews, the LGTBQ+ community or just about anyone who might be deemed different. And the party leaders’ blatant admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin exposes their reverence for autocracy.

Failure to prevent the AfD’s rise could potentially first corrode, then shatter democracy and rule of law in Germany.

But how can a party like this, which is getting stronger in the polls, be dealt with? Is a ban the right way to go? They are always difficult to deal with, and it isn’t even an option at this stage. What about joining the AfD to form a coalition and temper the party? That is even more difficult, as it is unreasonable to argue that the AfD should be treated like other parties. The Nazis and Adolf Hitler had also been democratically elected when they seized power in 1933.

So, what options remain? Many politicians and journalists say we need to confront the AfD with critical arguments. Sounds good on the face of it. But people have already been doing that for a decade — with scant success.

This is why the only remaining option is to attempt what neither the AfD nor many politicians from established parties have been able to do: Start taking voters’ most important concerns and issues seriously, and seek to find solutions.

The fears that have allowed the AfD to become as big as it is today are clearly identifiable. When a recent survey by Infratest Dimap asked “What topics most influence your decision to vote for the AfD at the moment?” 65 percent said immigration, 47 percent said energy policies and 43 percent named the economy.

And in their handling of all three of these key issues, the older parties have demonstrated moral cowardice and a lack of honesty.

This is especially apparent when it comes to immigration.

Why is it so hard for centrist politicians to just come out and say a few simple truths? Germany is a land of immigration, and it must remain so if it wants to be economically successful. And modern migration policy needs a healthy balance between altruism and self-interest.

According to economists’ most recent estimations, Germany needs to bring in 1 to 1.5 million skilled individuals per year from abroad. What we need is an immigration of excellence and qualified workers. People from war zones and crisis regions should obviously be taken in. But beyond that, we can only take the migrants we need, the ones who will benefit us.

This means the social welfare benefits for immigrants require critical rethinking, with the goal of creating a situation where every immigrant would be able to and would have to actually start working immediately. Then add to this factors that are a matter of course in countries with a successful history of integration: learning the local language and respecting the constitution and the laws. And anyone who doesn’t must leave — and fast.

Germany’s current immigration policy is dysfunctional. Most politicians and journalists are fully aware of this, but they just won’t say it out loud. And all this does is strengthen the AfD, as well as other groups on the left and right that have no true respect for democracy.

Not speaking out about the problem is the biggest problem. Indeed, when issues are taboo, it doesn’t make the issues any smaller, just the demagogues stronger.

We’re seeing the same with energy policy. Everyone knows that in the short term, our energy needs can’t be met by wind and solar power alone. Anyone interested in reality knows decarbonization without nuclear power isn’t going to be feasible any time soon. And they know heat pumps and cutting vacation flights won’t solve the global carbon challenge — it will, however, weaken the German economy.

We need only look at one example: While just over 2 percent of global carbon emissions come from aviation, almost a third are caused by China — an increasing amount of which comes from coal-fired power stations. Ordinary Germans are very much aware the sacrifices they’re being asked to make, and the costs being piled on them, make no sense in the broader scheme of things, and they’re understandably upset.

In some cases, this makes them more likely to vote for the AfD.

This brings us to the third and final reason why people are so agitated. The EU, and above all Germany, has broken its promise about advancing prosperity and growth. Fewer young people now see a future for themselves in Germany; more and more service providers and companies are leaving; and the increasing number of immigrants without means is reducing the average GNP per capita. Germans aren’t becoming more prosperous — they’re becoming poorer.

Traditional politicians and political parties unable to offer change are thus on very shaky ground. They have disconnected themselves from their voters, and they are paving the way for populists who use bogeyman tactics and offer simplistic solutions that solve nothing.



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