Germany banks on green job growth

By STEFAN NICOLA, UPI Europe Correspondent  |  Aug. 5, 2009 at 1:23 PM
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BERLIN, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Germany will be able to create 2 million new green jobs until 2020 if it makes the right policy decisions, argue the country's environment minister and a group of experts.

The German green tech sector already employs 1 million people. Over the past four years, 120,000 new jobs were created in the German renewable energy sector, which today employs nearly 300,000 people.

"All national and international studies indicate that this job creation potential will strongly increase," Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's environment minister, said Wednesday in Berlin. "Because of its experience and its innovative power, Germany has a big chance to participate in that boom."

Gabriel wants to incentivize environmentally friendly behavior, fund green education and research into clean coal; hold on to the country's nuclear phase-out; and finance a modernized energy infrastructure.

Gabriel said the plan by his party colleague Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister running for chancellor, to create some 2 million green jobs until 2020, was indeed realistic. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives had harshly criticized Steinmeier for what they see as raising unrealistic hopes when it comes to job creation.

To back up his party colleague's claim, Gabriel presented two studies that came to similar conclusions than Steinmeier did: A microeconomic one from consultants Roland Berger that gives several suggestions on how to boost the German green tech economy; and a macroeconomic one from the IMK Institute that sees green tech as a key driver to beat the economic crisis. (Gabriel says the Environment Ministry commissioned them long before Steinmeier drafted his plan).

Like most countries in Europe, Germany has been hit hard by the downturn. Over the next 18 months, some 1.8 million Germans will lose their jobs, according to estimates by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Europe.

"This scenario is not acceptable but represents a call for action," Gustav Horn, head of the IMK Institute, said in the joint news conference with Gabriel. His institute warns that increased government spending will be needed to not only save 1 million green jobs, but to create around 2 million more.

Steinmeier's plan "is doable ... but it needs significant political commitment," Horn said.

To keep Germany's green tech companies near the top, they need to invest more in research and development, said Torsten Henzelmann from Roland Berger. Nearly 90 percent of German green tech companies have yearly sales of less than $70 million; they pour on average 4.5 percent of their sales into F&E -- too little to compete with the world's best in the long run.

"German companies are falling back when it comes to innovation," Henzelmann said.

Gabriel also banks on outside help for the German green tech sector: The minister said India's ambitious National Solar Mission plan, aimed at reducing emissions and improving the country's access to stable electricity, could harbor massive jobs for Germany's photovoltaic industry.

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