What is more important now: climate protection or jobs?

With the greenest economic stimulus program in the world, Europe wants to rebuild the economy and advance climate protection. But there is a dilemma.

EActually, the year started well for Martin Kopp. The head of a medium-sized heating company in Helmstedt, Lower Saxony, was pleased that new state subsidies for replacing old heating systems were boosting his business. “We had a real run in January,” reports Kopp. The specialty of his company are wood chip wood heating systems, and they fit perfectly with the federal government’s funding goal of providing more climate protection in living. Unfortunately, the joy didn’t last long. “Then Corona came and it got quieter and quieter,” says Kopp.

Since the virus also struck in Germany, customer inquiries have fallen rapidly. That didn’t really surprise the craftsman. There is a simple rule in his profession, says Kopp: low energy prices are bad for business. “If natural gas is cheap, then the switch to wood chips is less profitable.” For the majority of his customers, the most important thing when it comes to heating is their wallet and secondarily the idea of ​​climate protection. Because of the Corona economic crisis, oil and gas prices have fallen sharply on the world market. So many do without installing a regenerative heating system.

The lack of orders from the heating manufacturer from Helmstedt is only one small facet. But it draws attention to a big question: What does the corona crisis in the global economy mean for one of the greatest long-term challenges facing mankind – climate protection? Will we still be able to afford the high investments necessary for climate protection? Are we losing sight of the looming climate crisis of tomorrow because of today’s economic crisis?

Future generations in particular will have to bear the damage caused by climate change, but they have no votes today. That is why politicians have a strong incentive to give the fight against the corona recession priority over climate protection. The energy economist Dieter Helm from the University of Oxford puts it ruthlessly: “People will be less willing to pay for future generations.”

EU wants the greenest economic stimulus plan in the world

But there is also another, more optimistic view: “We can turn this pandemic crisis into an opportunity,” promises Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission. Because if gigantic state aid programs are already being launched in Europe to rebuild the companies that have fallen on the ground between Naples and Helsinki, can we not build a new, more climate-friendly economy with the large amount of state money?

Next week the EU Commission wants to publish its proposal for the greenest corona recovery program in the world. In Germany, too, leading economists are promoting a link between economic aid and climate protection. The scientific advisory board of the Federal Ministry of Economics and the economic methods of the expert council advise this. But there are also dissenting voices. “My fear is that a lot more money will now be pumped into inefficient climate protection efforts in Germany and Europe,” says Magdeburg environmental economist Joachim Weimann. “I don’t think that we will get the economy going after Corona by using a lot of government money to promote the further expansion of renewable energies or the construction of electric car factories,” warns Weimann. Instead, when it comes to climate protection, Europe must rely much more consistently than before on the trading of emission rights.