Carel Mohn on Climate change and Energiewende in the media

Being constantly present on the world’s agenda, the issues of energy transition and climate change continue to receive a significant amount of attention, reaching deeper into society and going way beyond Germany and the European Union. With new rounds of debates going on, it is only logical to assume that better addressing of the issues requires strong media coverage with thoroughly researched, well-balanced and unbiased information. Carel Mohn, journalist and media programmes director with Clean Energy Wire, shares his experience of working on the topic of energy transition and his opinion on the media’s role in addressing this issue in Germany in his workshop at the FES European Autumn Academy held in Leipzig.

Why and how is the German environmental policy relevant for the outside world?

We do believe that it does matter what the world thinks about the Energiewende. Why is it relevant? Germany is one of the biggest players internationally; it is the second biggest exporter and the world’s fourth largest economy. It also has significantly committed into bringing down green house gas emissions and to building an energy system almost entirely based on renewables. It is also relevant because Germany, at least in some way, is a pioneer in adopting low-carbon technologies, so other countries can learn from what is happening here both from the successes as well as from the failures. Therefore, we would like to allow foreign journalists to report on German energy policy in an accurate and informed manner. We would like the debate to go beyond the headlines, to invite journalists to take a deeper plunge into the issue.

What are projects you work for? What is The Clean Energy Wire?

We offer journalistic content. First of all we have a daily English-language news-digest summarizing what the German media and German experts, think tanks, lobby groups have to say on Germany’s energy policy on the daily basis. So if you are an analyst in Djakarta, or Manila, or Washington and do not speak German, you nevertheless get access to the German debate. We also provide factsheets, data sets, and dossiers and try to bring in the whole picture by talking to critics and the opponents of the Energiewende. And, of course, you can use these services yourself, it is not restricted only to journalists.

Could you tell us a little bit more about your project is another project. We want the public debate to stay focused on climate change. So we look at the false claims about climate change and try to represent them on the state of scientific debate. By doing that we take these claims and then we check it by collaborating with another climate researchers. We try to do it in the manner that it is easy to understand.

What is the role of the media in the energy debate in Germany?

If you look at the energy debate in Germany, I would say that it was not the media that was driving and shaping the political agenda, it was civil society. We have had this generational conflict on nuclear energy, and, of course, the media covered it, but it was not the media that brought about into the public meaning. The media is important, but do not overestimate it.

What are the characteristics of current media landscape in relation to the topic of climate change?

Communicating the issues of climate change and energy transition in the era of shrinking media budgets and twinkling circulation poses difficulties. I do believe that we will continue to have media in our societies, they will take on a different form and they will survive, but at present it is difficult for them to survive economically. And this means we simply have less people to talk to – that is the most direct effect. And also some media tend to focus what is quick attention by audiences. It is not really structurally a good time to talk about complex issues.

What is the major problem of media reporting on climate change?

False balance is a structural problem of media reporting on climate change. In journalism society discusses many different facts, and viewpoints, and opinions and journalists are the arbiters and judges of the truth. So if one is saying A and the other one B, you can open the papers and have a debate. And obviously it works well when it comes to value judgments, things you can have an opinion on. But this clearly does not work when it comes to the science behind climate change. It simply does not make any sense to state: “In my opinion, gravity does not exist.” The same applies to anthropogenic climate change.

Interview by Varvara Morozova

Challenges of going coal-free

We can’t screw up, the whole world is currently looking at us. Everyone is waiting to see if Energiewende will eventually work, or not, says Julian Schwartzkopff, a researcher at Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G).

Environmental concerns of using coal for energy production are, however, closely connected to the socio-economical problems that would inevitably follow: loss of jobs, cuts in municipal budgets, or the need for redeveloping local infrastructure. „We need to get out of lignite and we need to do it rather soon,“ says Mr Schwartzkopff. „But we need to do it with the affected communities, we have to talk to the people from the traditional cole-mining regions. Fortunately, people from the NGO sector have begun to realize that if Energiewende is to succeed, we need to engage the groups that will be hit the hardest. There will be winners, as well as losers. And we need to be honest about that.“

Audio: An interview about the social impacts of going coal-free, by Jana Safarikova.

Sustainable development and its social implications

Sustainable development is a term commonly used. Although it may be hard to get a grasp of what it actually means, whether a sustainable planet is needed is hard to argue against. Therefore we have the PhD-student and researcher at University of Leipzig Institute for Infrastructure and Resources Management Theresa Weinsziehr, to explain sustainable development and its social implications.

Thank you for coming Theresa Weinsziehr. The term sustainable development has been used in quite extensively, and some might claim that it has been a bit overused. Therefore, explain to our readers, what is sustainable development? And how should it be seen?

Sustainable development has been on the agenda for quite some time. Although the term has been used extensively in many areas, the reality is that the term sustainable development has to a certain degree been commercialised.

Nevertheless, sustainability relies on three main pillars; its environmental, economical, and social implications. If all of them are not included implementing the radical changes in the society will not be accepted either, and create a resistance.

What is more, a stronger definition is needed as to make sure the term will not be used in inappropriate situations. Furthermore, whilst the definition of sustainable development can be argued, the importance of its implementation is not. The global warming is taking place, and our nature is being polluted.

Still the question remains; to what degree must the society be sustainable, who should pay for the transition?

In order to secure the access for resources for future generations our society must be sustainable, the co-effects and benefits of a more sustainable society are secured income-revenue, decreased pollution.

But can the transition take place on a regional level? Or should it be coordinated nationally or even internationally?

Certainly! Such a development would promote further regional suited development instead of national one. As to the central European countries that may not at first glimpse gain any benefit from a sustainable development; an example would be Krakow, a city heavily polluted by the mining industry nearby, and whose citizens demand a change. This is a case where a regionally governed energy policy would be more beneficial for the people instead of national governance.

But I must acknowledge that such change takes time, something that our planet does not have. But it also requires enormous financial resources, which the central European countries lack.

So why would they change? And how can the more affluent countries assist them in the process?

Even though there are clear environmental benefits of an energy transition the financial benefits are mainly long-term ones, making the eastern European countries less keen on a change. An emission trading system as well as investment in their energy sector, the reliance on un-renewable energy will decrease.

However, there are short-term adverse effects of an energy transition, being mainly financial, both in terms of investment costs as well as raised energy prices. Furthermore, these costs will be regained on the long-term. Mainly through reduced waste-costs and cheaper technology.

Interview by Haroon Bayani.

Dr. Dr. Ariel Macaspac Hernandez on the issue of energy supply security

The world that we knew is in a continuous process of transformation. Geo-political issues or natural disasters have a direct influence on world energy markets. They are vulnerable to disruptions due to politics and natural disasters. Still, the overall oil demand is growing, making essential the energy supply security.

Dr. Dr. Ariel Macaspac Hernandez is Research Fellow, Business Unit Stakeholder Dialogue and Social Acceptance at the Fraunhofer Center for International Management and Knowledge Economy in Leipzig. He explains the necessity of the energy supply security.

Dr. Dr. Hernandez, why is energy supply security important?

Ariel Hernandez: Because it ensures our economic competiveness in a highly globalized world. It legitimizes regimes, institutions, especially social cohesion. It allows us to concentrate more resources for other issues and ensures a better quality of life.

Which are the threats we are facing?

A.H: The world relies on a vast energy supply. Because of this dependence on energy, anything that will distort the system is a threat. Threats to energy security include the political instability of several energy producing countries, the manipulation of energy supplies, the competition over energy sources, attacks on supply infrastructure, as well as accidents, natural disasters, and reliance on foreign countries.

Can you be more specific?

A.H I mean environmental threats such as pollution or loss of biodiversity, social threats like health risks, polarization of the society, loss of social capital or national budget deficit. And then we have economic threats like lost opportunities in creating jobs.

Are there any threats of inter-state conflicts related to energy in Europe?

A.H New conflict is more likely to arise through the discovery of oil and gas in the Falkland Islands. There is also increasing tension between Germany and Poland, Czech Republic, and France due to the oversupply of electricity because of the delays of construction of electricity grids in Germany.

What can we do in order to enhance the robustness of the energy system?

A.H: We can establish an excellent natural disaster management system (early warning and early response), upgrade infrastructure and switching to more abundant resources, support technological development through more investment, diversification of energy sources and suppliers, reduction of energy consumption through more public awareness

What do you think is the ideal energy system?

A.H From the social and economic perspective, it is an equitable energy system which is affordable, safe, accessible, reliable, and an engine for innovation. From the environmental perspective, it is a sustainable energy system that is low carbon, clean, secure, resilient, and adaptable. In many countries, the challenge is to develop an efficient and rational power sector amid historically embedded political relationships that are highly dysfunctional and inefficient.

In your opinion, what is the key for structural change in Europe?

A.H Insecurities and uncertainties should not hinder transitions, but this can only happen when there is social trust. Transition periods need new policy instruments, solid and reliable communication channels between stakeholders as well as effective mechanisms for compensation. We should only accept that transition costs will happen. We need a proper distribution of costs. When we want to use more renewable energies, the costs of establishing the framework should not be shouldered by those who cannot resist. We also need to address institutional lock-ins and capital intensity of introducing new energy technologies.

“Now I am an insider, I am directly affected”


Dagmar Schmidt currently lives and works in Berlin and Lusatia as a community facilitator manager. At the FES Autumn Academy  she was talking about participation and her experience and work as a community facitilator manager in Lusatia. She is reasearcher and author of the study  “Plan A for Lusatia”. In the follow-up interview she is talking about her role in the changing process and the importance of capturing a broad base of the community.

Interview by Trang Dang

Ferropolis – change in action

Blood, sweat and tears. That is what it takes to construct excavators and bucket dredgers up to 130 meters long and 30 meters high. On a peninsula in the lake Gremmin an industrial park is located, with over 7 000 tonnes of industrial history.

Originally it was the location for the central office of the brown coal mine Golpa-Nord, operating until 1991. After its closure the mines enormous, albeit rusty, excavators were to be scrapped. However, the Bauhaus Dessau along with former mine works and other visionaries saved the steel gizmos, grouping them into an impressive ensemble. Though it is mainly used as a museum, every year large festivals and concerts takes place on its fitting scenery. Making the museum a unique place where historical industry and modern-day culture has been connected.


However, the historical importance and the emotional aspect must not be neglected. Germans in this particular area have for decades been intertwined with the machineries and the coalmines. Working in a coal mine in order to provide energy for others was a task carried out with pride. And rightfully so. After the Second World War, Germany was in shatters. And being a part of the rebuild must have felt incredible, with the coalmines being a symbol of the Germany regaining its confidence and strength.

The heavy and fascinating engineering narrates the daily routine in the open mine. Strolling along the gigantic machines, of which the oldest is from the early 50s, one can understand the affection for these machines and why they are kept. These machines embody the soul of the late-industrial era, an era in which the modern Germany with competitive industry was founded. Though not being active, their appearance emanates brute force and hard work. Climbing the almost 2000 tonnes stacker Gemini, the smell of fuel and corroded metal reminds of hard working men.


Nevertheless, our common global goal for cleaner environmentally friendly planet must regrettably yield over the needs of the workers. In Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and not the least Germany, an increasing number of lignite mines will face closure. Whilst it is understandably a sad event to loosing your job, the world is being tarnished by our energy consumption.

Is there a lesson to be gained from the history of the German coal miners? Basically that change is seldom a smooth transition from one state to the other. There will always be one group being affected more than others. Even though our planet is resilient to environmental stress we must alter our energy consumption and the type of energy produced in order to reach a sustainable world. We must admit that our current system is not sustainable in the long-run, and whilst the affluent Europe is insulated from the immediate consequences of global warming it will eventually come to this part of the world as well. In spite of that, we must not omit what the mentioned countries can gain from a transition. The heavy pollution in some of the Polish cities, nuclear leakage from German nuclear power plants, and increased energy independence for Ukraine is just a sample of all the benefits that can be gained by change.

Text by Haroon Bayani

All about the coal – Approaches to Energiewende

White shiny walls, clean big spaces and glass walls separating offices from industrial areas – that is generally not the typical image one would associate with a lignite power plant. Lippendorf in Saxony, about 15 km south from Leipzig, looks just like that and is perfect to discuss the challanges of energy transition.

Lippendorf belongs to one of the youngest and most modern lignite-fired power plants in Germany. Finished after eight years of construction in the year 2000, with the budget of more than two billion Euros, it is expected to function till 2040. But was it actually a reasonable decision to open such a traditionally oriented facility on the verge of the new millennium?

European politicians were slowly beginning to think about renewable resources as an alternative for coal at that time, and how to reduce the amount of energy delivered from the traditional, non-renewable sources. Energiewende was just about to be adopted in 2002.

Launched by the opponents of nuclear power in the 1970s, the idea of energy transition, or Energiewende, was mainly aimed at switching to renewable energy as well as at decreasing energy consumption. Today, however, with the large CO2 emissions and all the subsequent ecological issues connected to the use of coal, the focus has shifted to decreasing the reliance on this source of energy.

Germany has traditionally used coal as a primary source of its power supply. Despite its harsh effects on the environment, decreasing coal usage has shown to be more difficult than expected. Coal remains a major pillar in Germany’s power sector and is the main domestic fossil fuel, with reserves sufficient for another two centuries at current usage rates.

The plans for a new, modern lignite power plant emerged not long after the fall of Berlin Wall. Before the reunification, there was a total of 750 thousand people employed in the mining industry. After 1989, many Eastern Germans have found themselves jobless. “People in the region wanted to continue with the mining. But they needed to know first if the coal from Lusatia, which is the second biggest coal mining region in Germany, would be able to compete and earn on itself without government subsidies,” says Albrecht Wolf, a Vattenfall employee who gives guided tours through the facility. “But research had shown that the quality of this coal would bring profit without subsidies – on the condition that it would be processed by a new, more effective plant.”

Just a few years later after the opening, the financial crisis kicked in, reducing the amount of energy being consumed, and lowering the prices of electricity by two thirds. And for a range of various reasons, its owner, Swedish state-owned Vattenfall, is now about to sell it away.

“The reasons to sell Vattenfall’s coal mines and power plants are mainly environmental and political,” continues Mr. Wolf. “The other reason was that the Swedish government also makes steps to emancipate itself from coal industry and to become carbon neutral. Vattenfall as a state owned company then has to follow.” The new focus should then shift to water power plants at the Ostsee, nuclear energy and offshore wind power plants.

One of the parties interested in buying Vattenfall’s assets is the Czech energy corporation ČEZ. “There is quite an interesting parallel here,” thinks Konrad Thurm, an energy consultant based in Leipzig. “The Czechs had invested in the lignite industry here in Central Germany already at the beginning of the 20th century, before the First World War. And in a way, they have returned again in the recent years: the coal mining company Mibrag, which was originally German, is now owned by the Czechs, and ČEZ considers to buy Vattenfall’s power plants and mines.”


Despite the big goals, coal-generated energy is, however, likely to retain its position during Germany’s nuclear phase-out, unless new policies are implemented. “If we do not manage to pull off the low-carbon transition without social and economic disruption in the lignite regions, we are really at risk of making it an example that other are hesitant to follow,“ thinks the researcher Juilian Schwartzkopff.

Still, with the possibility of the rising price of coal and the increasing competitiveness of renewable power, coal industry will eventually have to be replaced in the long run. At the moment, coal serves mainly as a temporary energy source. With this in mind, Energiewende will still remain a challenge.

The approaches to the problematics are also polarised: On one side, there is fear of losing jobs and economic impact on the region if the whole industry closes down. Some also believe that climate change is just an artificial ideology that feeds on fear. On the other side, especially young researchers are convinced that the toll of environmental burden of mining and CO2 emissions is simply too high. And that the sooner the new strategy will be put into practice, the better.

Varvara Morozova, Jana Safarikova

Short recap of first discussion on energy transition

The participants took part in an intense discussion on what role brown coal has in their respective countries and how an energy transition should be accomplished. Although the participants come from all over Europe and have diverse backgrounds; the discussions were vivid and fruitful. Nevertheless, most agreed that Europe needs a change in the energy sector in order to inspire the world on how sustainable growth can come about. Here is a short recap of the discussion panel.

Which role has brown coal in your country?

Large brown coal mines in Europe are being replaced by an increasing number of nuclear power plants. But the brown coal has also a historical meaning. It is symbolic for certain social groups, primarily for the working class. Furthermore, who is to pay for the reforms? Whilst the questions remained unclear, they acknowledged that change must come. Other questions were; what does brown coal really mean for the attendees? Is it a question of identity, or is it a matter of financing? Is it about sustainable development? And how is the private sector as well as the public sector involved in the energy reform?

How is energy change discussed in your country?

In the lesser devoloped countries it is not prioritised on the political agenda, as there are more urgent issues, which need to be adressed. As an example, in Greece privatisation is viewed as an alternative solution. But what interest does the private sector private have? Should we be careful with privatising?

Some participants claimed that its mainly the work of the green parties that brings energy issues to the agenda.

Unfortunately, others rebuttaled, there are political structures holding on to the old ways and old systems in order to satisfy the needs of a small number of people. What is more, the situation in certain countries is not stable which is prolonging the progress in the energy sector. Current bilateral treaties between countries makes the reform more complicated is another barrier to overcome. Questions concerning building nuclear plants. What are the future plans made by policy makers?

How can young experts participate in the process of structual change? 

Participants asked questions and brought up topics to each other on how active the countries are and how attractive the political movements create opportunities for the young to be a part of the political process. The difference between the European countries were tremendous, where in Sweden the youth is highly involved in the political processes as a contrast to the former Soviet-countries, where young people feel a certain despair with their political system.

// The media team