Courage, a clear steer and fact-based discussions for the sustainability transformation


More courage and confidence, a clear steer from policy-makers and fact-based discussions are required to make a success of the sustainability transformation, according to Jan Peter Schemmel, the Oeko-Institut’s CEO, in the new episode of the institute’s “Wenden bitte!” podcast. Precisely because the forthcoming change processes will affect every stakeholder in the economy and society, there needs to be clarity on the goals and pathway towards a low-carbon, sustainable world. Providing this clarity, facilitating participation and engagement and defusing conflicts are key tasks for policy-makers, he says.

“Policy-makers should foreground the benefits of climate action and resource conservation to a greater extent,” says Jan Peter Schemmel. “Instead of a debate about the opportunities afforded by sustainability, we have a discourse which emphasises people’s fears and concerns.” Nevertheless, these fears, particularly among low-income groups, should be taken seriously in order to target support measures and incentives – for refurbishment of buildings, for example – to where they are needed most. In addition, sustainable solutions can be trialled in practical experiments, such as real-world labs, for later upscaling. Here, researchers work closely with practitioners to bring together diverse knowledge and experience for problem-solving.

“Wie gelingt die nachhaltige Transformation?” – “How can the sustainability transformation work?” Oeko-Institut podcast (in German)

The podcast audio is in German; an English translation of the exchange is here.

Science provides the basis for policy decisions

In the podcast, Jan Peter Schemmel also underlines the role played by independent applied science in protecting the climate and the environment. Its purpose, he says, is to gather the necessary factual evidence and share knowledge so that policy-makers, business and civil society can made informed decisions.

“Besides pure facts and figures on topics such as climate change, science also provides answers showing how climate targets, for example, can be reached,” he continues. “And at the Oeko-Institut, we are also looking at how sustainability can be delivered in a fair and equitable way. The decision on what is acceptable and in what form, and what needs to be done and when, then logically lies with politicians.”

Learning from international cooperation

Looking at international efforts to promote the transformation to sustainability, Jan Peter Schemmel is optimistic. Numerous countries, he says, have already set ambitious targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions – even though in some cases, they have significantly less financial scope while often facing major challenges in poverty reduction. Intergovernmental cooperation and the sharing of practical experience may be beneficial in relation to the exit from coal, the expansion of renewables, or their integration into the electricity grid, for example. There is increasing scope for both sides to learn from each other.

With regard to support from Germany, Jan Peter Schemmel sums it up: “This can range from straightforward knowledge-sharing to the provision of funding for alternative, sustainable economic development. Above all, however, Germany can act as a role model by demonstrating that climate action makes economic sense and it is worth pursuing this path.” At the same time, he says, other countries have already overtaken Germany in some respects, notably in relation to the dynamism with which they are bringing electric vehicles to market or expanding their solar power capacity. Here, Germany must embrace new technology pathways more rapidly and consistently in order to utilise climate change mitigation as a driver of the future-focused transformation of the economy.

The “Wenden bitte!” (“All change please!”) podcast: Season 3

Episode 6: “How can the sustainability transformation work?” with Jan Peter Schemmel, released 27 July 2023

Episode 5: “What can be done to make farming more climate-friendly?” with Margarethe Scheffler, released 22 June 2023

Episode 4: “How effective is the Supply Chain Act?” with Dr Peter Gailhofer, released 11 May 2023

Episode 3: “Will transport make the transition?” with Peter Kasten, released 6 April 2023, recorded 27 March 2023

Episode 2: "Sustainability through digitalisation?" with Carl-Otto Gensch, released 23 February 2023

Episode 1: "Can the forests still be saved?" with Dr Hannes Böttcher, released 12 January 2023

The podcast is available on all the usual podcast portals – such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify