14 Jun 2023, 13:45
Julian Wettengel

Breaching 1.5°C limit would jeopardise security, says novel German govt strategy

Photo: Adobe Stock.

Exceeding the 1.5°C temperature limit of the Paris Climate Agreement would jeopardise the prospect of living in security and prosperity in Germany and globally, says Germany’s first-ever National Security Strategy. In the document, the government addresses growing threats that include the consequences of climate change and the increased need for critical raw materials. Germany commits itself, among other things, to meeting NATO's 2 percent target for defence spending, and to building up food and energy reserves for emergencies. At a time of upheaval for the global security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the strategy highlights the need to diversify the energy supply – even as the country moves towards a renewables-based economy.

In its first National Security Strategy, the German government has addressed climate change and the secured access to critical raw materials as some of the most pressing challenges the country is facing.

“Man-made climate change threatens our livelihoods, and it also has consequences for the stability of entire countries and regions," German chancellor Olaf Scholz said in the strategy’s foreword.

The strategy  crafted by several ministries and the chancellery argues that policies focussing on the global climate, the environment, food supply and resources “are security policy.” It states that the Paris Agreement's target to limit global rise in average temperatures to 1.5°C “is a national and international target” for the federal government. “Exceeding this limit would jeopardise the prospect of living in security and prosperity in Germany and globally in the medium and long term.” At the national level, Germany will reach its climate targets, the government said. At the international level, it aims to make a “substantial contribution” to international climate finance also post-2025.

Key climate and energy aspects of the security strategy

  • Germany “will reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets”
  • Government will make contribution to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent and expand climate diplomacy
  • Government will work out climate foreign policy strategy
  • Establish and develop the international “climate club”
  • Commission leading research institutions and Federal Intelligence Service to evaluate effects of climate crisis on security
  • Adopt national climate adaptation law and adaptation strategy with measurable targets
  • Ensure that short term measures to ensure energy supply security are in line with long term climate targets
  • Germany aims to strengthen raw material and energy security through diversification
    • Reduce dependencies, avoid new ones; further develop national resource strategy + push for finalisation of EU critical raw material legislation
    • Government aims to source strategically important raw materials “from reliable partners wherever possible”
    • Create strategic reserves, providing incentives for companies to do so
    • Develop hydrogen import strategy
  • Germany aims to create umbrella law on critical infrastructure to strengthen their resilience
    • Push for EU-wide monitoring of critical supply chains
  • Germany promises a “substantial contribution” to international climate finance also post-2025, wants to work for “speedy operationalising” of loss and damage finance mechanism

The strategy comes at a time of upheaval for the security environment of Germany as well as that of its partners. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, chancellor Scholz used the term “Zeitenwende” (turn of an era) to describe the security implications for Germany and its international partners. The strategy calls Russia “the greatest threat to peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area for the foreseeable future.”

In the document, Germany commits itself to meeting NATO's 2 percent-target for defence spending and to building up food stocks and energy reserves for emergencies. The strategy's main aim is to take into account for the first time all internal and external factores threatening the country's security – not only in military terms, but also regarding possible attacks on critical infrastructure or overarching issues, such as climate change. The government defines its 'integrated security policy' approach as the protection against war and violence, the freedom to shape people's lives within the framework of the liberal democratic order; and the safeguarding of people's livelihoods. The strategy lays out basic policy guidelines to this end, but stops short of going into the details of each security aspect.  

“All means and instruments must be integrated in order to protect our country against external threats," said Scholz at a press conference in Berlin. “Without security, there is no freedom, no stability and no prosperity.”

“We paid for every cubic metre of Russian gas twofold and threefold with our national security” - Baerbock

Germany’s ruling coalition had agreed to present a “comprehensive national security strategy” – the first one of its kind – within the first year in office and had originally planned to publish it ahead of the Munich Security Conference in February. However, the drafting was delayed due to prolonged disputes within the coalition.

Already in early 2022, foreign minister Annalena Baerbock had said that the climate crisis would be at the heart of the strategy, as it was “the security policy question of our time.”

Climate change influences security policy across the world in many different ways. The effects of the global temperature rise include more frequent and extreme weather events, meaning that security threats like flooding, drought, health issues and famine are becoming more common around the world. This in turn is expected to lead to bigger migration movements, economic disruption and conflicts over resources such as food, water or energy.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a changing geopolitical landscape in a world moving towards renewable energy systems have put additional weight on the connection between security, climate and energy policy. The war on Ukraine and the parallel energy crisis also underlined the importance of a consistent strategy which can be adhered to by all ministries, from defence to energy. The war and its consequences forced Germany to radically rethink many fundamental policy fields - and especially its energy policy, given that the country used to be heavily dependent on Russian fossil fuels until about mid-2022.

“We paid for every cubic metre of Russian gas twofold and threefold with our national security,” Baerbock writes in the strategy's foreword. “In future, we will focus more on security when it comes to decisions on economic policy. This holds true for the question as to where we buy medication, raw materials and energy.”

The strategy says that Germany will continue efforts to diversify its energy supply. “Although the energy transition is reducing dependence on fossil fuels, Germany will remain an importer of energy for the foreseeable future,” it says.

The foreign ministry took the lead on working out the security strategy. It had aimed for a “shared and inclusive process involving the public as well as experts”, and minister Baerbock travelled the country last summer to talk to citizens. However, the final version of the strategy had been kept under tight lock until the official publication.

Strategies on China and climate foreign policy to follow later this year

The government regards the national security strategy tightly intertwined with two other key documents it plans to release this year: its China strategy and its climate foreign policy strategy. Baerbock called climate foreign policy “an integral element of the security strategy”, as climate change undermined security, especially in vulnerable states. On China, the minister said that the country’s investments in infrastructure worldwide as part of the so-called Belt and Road initiative, such as for energy supply, could become a security issue.

The China strategy has also been delayed and will likely kept under wraps until China’s premier Li Qiang and several ministers travel to Berlin for bilateral government talks on 20 June. “Some officials in Berlin say that Scholz isn’t too unhappy about the China strategy delay,” Hans von der Burchard wrote recently in Politico. “This way, he won’t risk angry comments from his Chinese counterparts, considering that a first draft of the strategy was quite critical vis-à-vis Beijing.”

Baerbock said at the press conference that there was no black-and-white thinking in dealing with Beijing. There are fundamental differences with China, for example on questions of democracy, but cooperation is needed, for example in the fight against climate change.

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