How Germany Became Europe’s Green Leader - Environment

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Cyclists on Freiburg's car-free Wiwili bridge. The bridge was closed to cars in the early 2000s and is now open only to cyclists and pedestrians. Photo by Ralph Buehler.

November 15, 2011
Ralph Buehler, Arne Jungjohann, Melissa Keeley, Michael Mehling

This article examines how German environmental policymaking over the last 40 years transformed Europe’s economic engine into the international driver of green growth. By examining Germany’s environmental policy development in the energy, infrastructure and transportation sectors, transferrable lessons are gleaned that may help the US pave its own green policy agenda.

How Germany Became Europe's Green Leader sreates a bridge between Germany’s successful green policy outcomes and relevant solutions to the obstacles currently hindering the United States. Political polarization, the need for long-term strategic planning as well as policy fragmentation are all issues that once characterized Germany’s environmental policy landscape, yet now mirror the impasse the US must overcome in order to go forward.

Germany’s solutions may have their own legal and political idiosyncrasies, but the extent of their success necessitate deeper exploration for those who want similar success to occur across the Atlantic. First, successful policies began as small-scale projects that expanded when proved successful. The German Renewable Energy Resources Act, (EEG) initially provided subsidies to basic renewable energy sources for grid access. As EEG became more established, it eventually covered a broader array of innovations and technologies. Long-term planning and coordination that cuts across boundaries (levels of government or public/private sectors) have greater policy effectiveness than “silver bullet” approaches that strive for limited, short-term solutions. In addition, new solutions that benefit both sides of a policy divide have greater staying power than solutions that don’t enjoy such broad-based appeal.

Green economic transformation is not just possible, but as Germany demonstrates, it can incorporate the key sectors that are vital for both economic and ecological sustainability. If policies are carried out on a step-by-step basis, with coordination, consent and enlargement geared towards a long-term vision, the United States can become both an economic and a green energy leader.

Click here to access How Germany Became Europe's Green Leader: A Look at Four Decades of Sustainable Policymaking

About the authors
Ralph Buehler is an assistant professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria Center.
Arne Jungjohann is the director for the Environment and Global Dialogue program of the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s Washington, DC office.
Melissa Keeley is an assistant professor of Geography and the director of the Environmental Studies Program at George Washington University.
Michael Mehling is the president of Ecologic Institute and an adjunct professor of energy and environmental policy at Georgetown University.