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Is Technology the Key to a Green Economy?

Improving resource efficiency as a contribution to sustainable development and a green economy is one of the most important challenges society is facing today. A challenge especially technology takes on because it opens up an important perspective to deal with scarce resources.

This year’s Climate Change Performance Index, published by Germanwatch, compared the climate protection efforts of 57 industrialized and emerging countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. On top of the ranking, we see countries like Sweden, Lithuania and Morocco. Germany ranks 22, one rank below the European average.

What do the countries heading the ranking exactly do differently? One aspect is the government’s function in implementing the right sustainability strategies supporting the research and development of green technologies that bring long-term improvements. And investing in technologies that are most promising to make a “green difference”.

The technological green innovations we are speaking of are:

Waste-to-energy and recycling management

First of all, it’s improving recycling management in cities and households. Take Sweden’s Waste-to-Energy programme for example, where 99% of non-recyclable waste from Swedish households is reused to generate heat and energy. There are now 32 of these plants generating heat for 810,000 households and electricity for 250,000 private homes. This has also greatly reduced the number of landfills, that have become an issue worldwide, especially due to the growing population.

Sustainable urban development and transportation

The importance of research and development for ecological innovations can be witnessed, again, in the nordic countries. After Stockholm and Copenhagen, in 2019 Oslo has won the title “European Green Capital”, honoring green urban achievements. Indicators for being a green city include local transport, biodiversity, air quality, waste management and noise.

Oslo has set itself very ambitious targets, being a car-free city by 2050, for which the city invests heavily in electro-mobility is just one of them.

All in all, in regard to sustainable urban development and transportation, the focus is on energy efficiency, eco-friendly transport and social inclusion.

Energy-efficient construction: ecological building is a growing market

Malmö has created two world-leading examples of sustainable building. According to the Bo01 is a constructed district that unites modern architecture with ecological sustainability, while Ekostaden Augustenborg is one of the largest investments in Europe in the ecological conversion of an existing residential area.

The environmentally friendly housing concepts in cities such as Malmö and other cities like Stockholm are proof of feasibility and that the necessary technologies are just waiting to be deployed. Sweden has ever since managed to establish a frontrunner position in the space, attracting talent, clean tech enterprises, architects and engineers from all over the world.

What about Germany?

Such ecological construction projects are rather rare in Germany and hardly planned in the near future although it is the strongest economy in Europe. This is not a surprise, considering that Germany finds it difficult to move towards a greener economy in general.

Eleven years ago, the federal government decided to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 % by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. The current coalition agreement only aims to achieve the 2020 target “as far as possible”. The current climate protection report of the federal government only expects a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by about 32 %.

Germany is still one of the ten countries with the world’s highest absolute greenhouse gas emissions and emission per capita hasn’t decreased since 2009. This is due, among other things, to the fact that Germany is the world’s largest user of coal and that the transport sector has not succeeded to reduce emissions since 1990.

Germany must drastically increase efforts. And now that Chancellor Merkel is about to leave, there is hope that she steps up for the climate goals, making the very much needed uncomfortable and unpopular decisions that might have held her back ever since.

Yes, supporting technology is crucial for moving towards a greener economy as proved by the cities heading international rankings and their progressive projects. Therefore the government needs to invest more into public research and development programs and tax measures that create incentives for the implementation of private sector programs.

The problem is more fundamental

But since the problem, at least in Germany, is more fundamental, first and foremost we need to commit and turn our goals into the actions they require to be achieved.

Germany has a long way to go. Failing the 2020 target would be devastating for Germany as a former leading country in climate protection and the signal it would send out into the world.