Germany had to make “painful choices” when it evicted people from a village to make way for the expansion of a coal mine, its climate envoy has told Sky News.
Footage of German riot police in Lutzerath clashing with protesters against the nearby Garzweiler coal mine made headlines worldwide.
It was a decision some found incongruous with Germany’s ambition to be a global climate leader.
Jennifer Morgan, state secretary and special envoy for international climate action, said: “These are the very challenging societal debates that one has to have if you’re serious about moving forward on the climate crisis.
“Are there tough choices and painful choices that come along the way? Absolutely.”
Ms Morgan pointed to the other ways Germany had scrambled to ensure the lights stayed on as Russian President Vladimir Putin squeezed Europe’s gas supplies.
This included phasing out all Russian fossil fuels imports “in a very short period of time,” shifting to 80% renewables by 2030 and helping cut energy use by 60% in industry and 14% by households, she said.
Ms Morgan added: “I would hope that one sees that as the direction that Germany is moving in, that there are very difficult political compromises that get made,” she said, referencing the fact the coal-intensive North Rhine-Westphalia region had also brought forward its coal end date.
But she admitted Germany was “vulnerable” to the recent energy security crisis and that it had “learned the hard way that one shouldn’t be so dependent on fossil fuels or on one country”.
The campaigner-turned-diplomat, who was once head of Greenpeace International, also hinted at some sympathy with the Lutzerath activists.
She called it “incredibly important in a climate crisis” that young people can engage “in an act of political debate about their future”.
‘Rebalance fossil fuel interests’
In an interview in the German ambassador’s residence in London, Ms Morgan said “there needs to be a rebalancing” of fossil fuel influence at the annual United Nations COP climate summits.
Last week, 450 green groups wrote to the UN to request a crackdown, after 630 lobbyists registered to attend COP27 in Egypt last year.
Their concerns were amplified after United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s largest oil producers and host of COP28 this December, appointed an oil executive and government to run the talks.
Ms Morgan said the world must “respect who the country has put forward” and that Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, like any COP president, would have to “take on a role that is actually above what they currently do in their day jobs”.
Campaigners have called for Mr Al Jaber to resign from his role as head of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, but Ms Morgan declined to say whether she would raise this with him when she meets him in February.
Asked if Germany, a long time sceptic of nuclear power, should reconsider the clean energy form, she said: “Definitely not”.
“Nuclear has massive risks on its own, it’s extremely expensive and it takes a long time to build,” she added.
Ms Morgan, who was in London for talks with government ministers Lord Zac Goldsmith and Graham Stewart, said it would be “safer” for the UK – which is planning vast nuclear power expansion – to steer clear.
“Going further in offshore wind, as the UK has been doing, and building it out domestically, also on land, going for energy efficiency – I think that’s a safer way to go,” she said.
Ms Morgan, who represents one of the world’s largest emitters and economies, also spoke about what keeps her awake at night.
“That we’re moving too slowly,” she said. “That the pace and scale of change isn’t fast enough, and that we have to do so many things at once.
“How do we get everyone to act as if it is the crisis that it is?”
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