Interview with Thekla Walker MdL, Minister for the Environment, Climate Protection and Energy Sector, Baden-Württemberg
For the first of our new leaders' series for the Under2 Coalition, we have been speaking to Minister Thekla Walker from Baden-Württemberg about Germany's climate leadership and the state's priorities for climate action this decade
Baden-Württemberg has always been a strong supporter of state and regional climate action and the Under2 Coalition. Why is it so important that subnational governments take the lead in protecting our climate?
Coordination at international level is not easy and always requires compromises, as we saw at the last COP with the agreement on coal phase-out. Many states and regions around the world are however frontrunners when it comes to fighting the climate crisis.
Over the past six years, the Under2 Coalition has evolved from a small alliance of twelve climate-ambitious states and regions into a global climate alliance. This dynamic evolution demonstrates that many states and regions around the world are willing to take ambitious climate action – often outperforming the national level. With their membership of the Coalition, subnational governments send an important signal to their national governments and put pressure on them to take action to save our climate.
Through the Under2 Coalition, states and regions have also succeeded in exerting their influence internationally. Together we have the potential to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by almost five gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent – that is more than the whole European Union! That enables us to be a strong voice for climate protection and if we combine our efforts as states and regions, we can achieve our ambitious goals.
What role can or will Germany’s regions play in influencing Germany’s environmental commitments this year? And how does this reflect Baden-Württemberg’s priorities?
The new federal government of Germany has stated that fighting the climate crisis and preserving biodiversity are the top environmental priorities for the coming years.
Baden-Württemberg supports these two goals and we are strongly committed to using our influence to do so, for example in the ‘Bundesrat’ (the second chamber of parliament where German states are represented) to ensure that these goals are pursued ambitiously and that the necessary measures are effectively implemented.
Of course this also means that we have to continue tackling these challenges in our own region. We therefore passed a new climate protection law last year, setting ourselves the goal of climate neutrality by 2040 and demonstrating that, as a highly industrialized state, we are willing to transform to net zero. We are also committed to making further progress in protecting biodiversity.
Following the commitments made at COP26, what should be the focus of COP27?
In recent days and weeks, Russia’s aggression has changed the world. However, at the upcoming conference in Sharm el Sheikh it must be possible to find an international agreement that keeps up the fight against climate change.
The IPCC report of February 2022 shows emphatically that the time for action is overdue. Therefore, it is more important than ever that national contributions - NDCs - are further improved at the upcoming COP. Our goal must be to reach the 1.5°C target. Unfortunately, we are still far away from that at the moment. Nevertheless, there are encouraging signs from subnational groups that they want to lead the way - even if the national governments are not willing to yet.
What have you learnt through being a member of the Under2 Coalition?
Close and intensive contacts with other members of the Under2 Coalition offer us great opportunities to learn from each other. States and regions with similar challenges - for example, those that are highly industrialized - can share their knowledge and experiences. But within the Coalition we also support governments in emerging and developing countries and offer them assistance in developing the necessary capacity for more ambitious climate action.
Cooperating through the Under2 Coalition has made me aware of the extent to which other states and regions are affected by climate change. But it has also been inspiring for me to see the innovative and creative ways they find to deal with this challenge for humankind.
We need to give special support to regions in countries where the national government hinders climate protection. In the Under2 Coalition we don’t meet just for coffee chit chat, but we take the opportunities we have to make the world a better place. For example, through the Climate Footprint Project, we are providing the necessary resources for regions in emerging and developing countries to improve their systems of tracking and monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
Which of Baden-Württemberg’s climate commitments are you most proud of and why?
Last year we succeeded, in a very short timeframe, in adapting and tightening our climate protection law. Now it is legally set that Baden-Württemberg has to become climate-neutral by 2040 – five years earlier than the federal government.
Making sure that we meet this goal on time means we now have to focus on strong and effective measures. These include, among others, speeding up our switch to renewable energies and advancing energy efficiency. We have therefore become one of the first states in Germany to commit to installing solar panels on all new buildings. Next year, we will also apply this to fundamental roof renovations on existing buildings. But of course we can ultimately only achieve climate neutrality with the help of every sector in society.