Jul 14, 2015
The poker game surrounding the costs of Germany’s nuclear phase-out has entered a new round. Energy providers E.ON, RWE, EnBW, and Vattenfall have filed a flurry of lawsuits against the German government. They want damages for the country’s abandonment of nuclear energy.
They also want reimbursement for spent fuel tax, damages for the nuclear power plant moratorium, and compensation for the costs of interim nearby and on-site storage of nuclear waste. The total amount at stake is about 20 billion euros. The companies also hope to shift the risk of costs related to the nuclear phase-out to the state, probably because their reserves are far too low to do the job.
The old accusation that has dogged environmental policy from the start seems to have some truth to it. Protecting nature and the environment comes at a price to the state and the economy. “This argument has been with environmental policy right from the start, since the 1970s,” says Professor Miranda Schreurs of the Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU) at Freie Universität.
“And yet, it’s just the opposite: In the long term, ecologically responsible actions are also economically worthwhile, since innovations create new sales markets, and with them, growth and jobs,” she says. For example, the nuclear phase-out resolved by the German federal government could lead to a situation in which important technologies for storing energy, energy efficiency, and electric transportation are developed in Germany, with new markets arising as a result.
The FFU has been studying the issues facing environmental and energy policy since 1986 with the aim of gaining a scholarly view of the costs, benefits, and opportunities associated with sustainable policy. There are now about 30 researchers and student assistants working there on issues of comparative and international energy and environmental policy research.
The center also has about 50 doctoral candidates from more than 20 countries, about 40 graduate students, and the students enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program in political science, who complete part of the program there. Its research focuses on climate policy, the German energy transition, and final disposal of nuclear waste, but the center also studies subjects that have emerged more recently, such as the questions of political involvement, social movements, and biodiversity.
“Berlin is definitely one of the world’s most exciting locations for research on environmental policy,” Schreurs says. “There’s just an incredible amount going on here in the area of sustainability.” As if to prove the point, she lists the bodies to which she belongs: member of the German Federal Environment Ministry’s Advisory Council on the Environment, substitute chair of the European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils (EEAC) network, and member of the special committee New Energy for Berlin.
In April 2011, following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Schreurs was also tapped by Chancellor Angela Merkel to serve on the “Safe Energy Supply” ethics commission, which had been established on a temporary basis. Another beneficial factor, she says, is that multiple relevant research institutions are based in Berlin, such as the Ecologic Institute, the Adelphi organization, which offers political analysis and strategic consulting on the topic of sustainability, and the Öko-Institut. The German Federal Environment Ministry also maintains a large office in the German capital.
In this way, the research, consulting, and teaching segments form a strong network, such as in the Energy-Trans project, which is currently receiving funding from the Helmholtz Association. In the project, four universities and five research centers have teamed up to study how the German energy transition is being implemented by investigating the interaction between technology and user behavior and between overall economic and political conditions. The task of the Environmental Policy Research Centre is to identify the European dimension of the energy transition.
“In the future, the implementation of climate and energy policies at the local and regional levels will play an increasingly important role,” the head of the research center says. “Our job as scholars and scientists is to understand and trace these processes,” says Schreurs, who is originally from the United States. She points out that the diverse and interconnected international networks maintained by Freie Universität are a big help in this regard.
The researchers are increasingly also relying on interdisciplinary approaches in their research. “The natural and social sciences will have to work together more closely for this,” Schreurs says with conviction.
Schreurs explains that the work being done in the field of environmental policy and sustainability research in Berlin is still widely dispersed, so it does not have a sufficiently prominent public image. “Maybe we can pool these activities together in a center for sustainability policy soon,” Schreurs says. “If it were a virtual center, that would even be very inexpensive to implement.” Nearly 30 years after the founding of a center for academic research on environmental policy at Freie Universität, that would mark another milestone in research for a livable future.
Professor Miranda Schreurs, Environmental Policy Research Centre (FFU), Freie Universität, Tel.: +49 30 838 56654, Email: Miranda.Schreurs@fu-berlin.de