Open letter: Paving the way for a sustainable future

Open letter from the German Council for Sustainable Development and 14 other German federal government advisory boards and bodies to the federal chairs, general secretaries and the chairs of the parliamentary groups of the SPD, Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen, FDP and CDU/CSU.

To Whom it May Concern,

As things stand, Germany needs a bold policy and new direction in both society and the economy: we need a strategy that empowers a rapid transition to climate neutrality while maintaining our competitiveness – all in harmony with the planetary boundaries. A strategy that circumvents and overcomes social cohesion, that strengthens democracy and solidarity and plays a part in aligning cooperation in the international community with the global common good.

Without a fundamental, global change of course across politics, society and the economy, we face an increase in global temperatures of more than three degrees. With this comes the drastic loss of biodiversity and habitats, a perpetual threat to prosperity and development opportunities in poorer and richer countries alike as well as increased social tension, posing a serious threat to democracy and human rights.

Faced with such a critical situation, for the very first time we, the chairs and members of a range of bodies advising the federal government and the Bundestag, are jointly addressing you, the politicians responsible for negotiating a new coalition agreement and shaping Germany throughout this decade of the 21st century.

We feel that large segments of business and society in Germany are ready to play their part in shaping the transformations ahead. Similarly, a large number of countries all around the world have committed themselves to the goal of achieving climate neutrality by the middle of the century in light of the Paris Agreement. What we need now is a clear political course that, in line with the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, aligns the regulatory framework with climate and resource protection as well as the preservation of biodiversity and brings climate policy more sharply into focus on a global scale.

The core features of such sustainable development in Germany include:

  • The rapid expansion of renewable energies – in particular wind and solar power – as the foundation for a swift exit from fossil fuels;
  • A comprehensive and rapid expansion of infrastructure for both the Energiewende, that is the energy transition, and climate-friendly mobility;
  • Kick-starting a hydrogen economy;
  • The effective protection of biological diversity and thus also of the indispensable ecosystem services for society and the economy. This hand in hand with a consistent reduction in land consumption;
  • Greater cooperation in the global trade of renewable energies as well as in the sphere of technology worldwide;
  • The development of a climate-neutral and ‘resource-light’ circular economy, in which reusability and durability are taken into account right from the outset;
  • A transport revolution that combines low-emission drive systems with new mobility concepts and the expansion of public transport, resulting in an attractive range of options for citizens in urban and rural areas alike, and
  • The transformation of agricultural and food systems on the basis of the key recommendations of the German Commission on the Future of Agriculture.

All in all, efforts must be made to ensure a socially equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens that will surely result from the transformation (for instance, through offering significant financial relief for consumers by reducing charges and levies on the price of electricity). In addition, we must avoid producing any consequences at global level with our actions.

Each of these transformations is a highly complex task in and of itself. Collectively, their interdependencies will put society’s ability to change and reform to the test. That said, they will also create remarkable opportunities to ensure both an environment and society worth living in as well as human health. But one thing is clear: without substantial national and international efforts, our present trajectory for development will exceed our planet’s boundaries.

It follows that Germany’s foreign policy and international cooperation must also be aligned with the goals of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement as well as international strategic partnerships on an equal footing.

In our opinion, what is needed is the targeted leveraging of a number of points. To our minds, these include above all the systematic alignment of the system of taxes and levies with climate and environmental protection, the comprehensive removal of fossil fuel subsidies and the creation of a stimulating environment for technological and social innovation. Of particular importance here are further digitalisation steps geared towards a sustainable future. If we are to mobilise private capital for the transformation, we must align the rules for market-based pricing with the resultant environmental and social costs. This includes strengthening emissions trading and anchoring it inter-sectorally at European level. In addition, we must expand sustainability reporting and make it more comparable, also with a view to providing appropriate consumer information.

Moreover, we believe it is necessary to adapt the way the German government works as well as how the challenges outlined above are administrated. To this end, we recommend the expansion of interdepartmental cooperation across the areas that are key to shaping a sustainable future. Among other methods, this could be achieved by strengthening the steering function of the Federal Chancellery and modernising administration by introducing strong and strategically capable structures in the ministries. In addition, we need accelerated planning and implementation processes at all levels, for instance, through more efficient and digitalised processes, better staffing in all relevant authorities and courts and a reform of planning law.

The Federal Constitutional Court has directed policymakers and, in particular, legislators to guarantee, and fairly balance, the freedom of present and future generations alike, including as we face the impact of climate change. We call upon you to anchor sustainable development as the defining and foundational leitmotif of the new legislative period and to approach the changes that must be made with courage.
We are at your disposal for any further discussions or consultations you may wish to have.

With kind regards

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