The Social and Economic Co-Benefits of Renewable Energies

By Dr Sebastian Helgenberger

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In the fight against climate change, it’s vital that developing and emerging nations also abandon their fossil fuels, which are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The co-benefits of renewable energy policies can become a decisive argument for structural change.

Last week, Tagesspiegel Background reported on a study of investment and jobs in the German energy sector. In this context, Green MP Julia Verlinden criticised the federal government for its failure to acknowledge the contribution of renewables to economic development and job creation. The stance of our government in this regard is indeed baffling. After all, in many other countries it’s the social and economic co-benefits of the new energy world which are driving important structural transformation.

Developing and emerging nations in particular are relying on renewable energies to solve acute social and economic problems. At the IASS in Potsdam, researchers involved in the international COBENEFITS project are working together with the German Environment Ministry and international partners in countries like South Africa and India to help our partner countries seize upon the opportunities of the global energy transition. The governments of these countries expect this to have positive effects on employmentair quality and regional development.

Little talk of social and economic opportunities

Since it first got going in the 1970s, Germany’s energy transition has been a citizen-led structural transformation, driven by local environmental initiatives and, increasingly, by the financial gains of the many people involved in community-owned energy projects.

By integrating so many different actors into this transformation while maintaining security of supply, Germany’s new energy path has gained international recognition. In countries like South Africa, Turkey and the US – when one factors out Trump – interest remains high in Germany’s experiences of community-owned, citizen-led, and clean energy generation and value creation based on renewables. So it’s quite surprising that there is relatively little discussion of the many social and economic co-benefits of the new energy world in Germany itself.

As a consequence, the further implementation of the energy transition can easily become a pawn in the different environmental and climate agendas of the German political parties. The fact that sustainable social and economic development is in everybody’s best interest is often overlooked.

Important socio-economic analyses like the aforementioned study on the positive effects of renewables on employment levels in Germany can stimulate much-needed debate. And our proposal for an “Energiewende: Co-Benefits“ synthesis report could lay the foundations for a German discussion of the energy transition centred on opportunities.

Of course, one cannot overemphasise just how essential ambitious and effective climate protection measures taken today are for peaceful and free coexistence in the future. And the energy transition has an important role to play here – in Germany and at international level. It will only succeed when decision-makers across the globe take swift action and capitalise on the opportunities it presents. Germany still has a lot of ground to cover, but the co-benefits of renewable energies could become the decisive argument for climate-friendly energy policies in this country too.

Photo: Renewable energies are creating jobs and driving development in rural areas with no connection to the electricity grid – like here in Vietnam. © GreenID

The German version of this article was first published on 14 March 2018 in Tagesspiegel Background Energie und Klima. The author would like to thank Laura Nagel and Marvin Strauß for their help with this article.

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