From the abstract to the ordinary: Exploring the Energiewende from the bottom up

With local climate action as its theme, the first media study tour in the “climate and energy transformation in action” series was all about showing how the German energy transition is becoming part of daily life for people across society. The tour also gave participating journalists the chance to engage with each other and their peers in Germany with the big stories in climate and energy in Europe today.

There are times when concepts like “energy transition” and “emissions reduction” can seem somewhat abstract and far off. In fact, the shift to a low-carbon energy supply is touching the lives of ordinary people all across Europe. In Germany, the switch to renewable energy technologies and greater energy efficiency is widely known as the Energiewende and is being driven by people in cities and in the countryside, by all age groups from school children right though to pensioners – in short, by people from all walks of life.

When journalists report on energy transition and climate change, they are often looking for this more human, personal angle. Who are these people? What motivates them? What challenges do they face? And what can we learn from them? The first media study tour in the “climate and energy transformation in action” series, organised by adelphi on behalf of the European Climate Initiative (EUKI) of the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), sought to offer some answers to these questions.

Great interest in projects that link social and financial benefits and CO2 reductions

Over three days, participating journalists from seven Central and Eastern European countries visited a variety of initiatives around Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg to talk to people from local government, state agencies, welfare and housing associations, citizen groups, educators and businesses about how they are pushing forward the Energiewende from the bottom up.

During the tour, the journalists were particularly interested in projects that aimed to provide social and financial benefits, alongside reductions in carbon emissions. “I think it’s great how some of the initiatives do something smart while also helping people”, said Roxana Bucată, coordinating editor at the Romanian independent media platform Think Outside the Box. She singled out the Energy-Saving Check as a prime example.

The initiative, run by the Caritas welfare association and German Association for Energy and Climate Protection Agencies (eaD) and funded by the BMUB, trains people who have been unemployed for a long time to become energy advisors and provide consultations to low-income households to help them save energy and money.

"The best way to get everyone involved is to start with the youngest"

For Jakub Wiech, a journalist for the Polish energy portal, it was the visit to town of Rehfelde in Brandenburg that stood out. There the group learned how a group of citizens had financed and managed the construction of two wind turbines. “They should host a round table for European countries, as they showed the pros and cons of trying to achieve something like this from the bottom-up,” he said afterwards.

As Zina Sokolova, a reporter for Az Buki, the weekly newspaper of the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science, noted: “The best way to get everyone involved is to start with the youngest – children in kindergartens and schools”. The programme therefore included a trip to the Robert-Havemann-Gymnasium school in the Berlin district of Pankow to meet the young energy consultants being trained by the Köpfchen statt Kohle (Use your head, not coal) initiative, and a visit to the Wald-Solar-Heim, an environmental education retreat focused on the topics of forests and renewable energy sources in Eberswalde.

Reporting on climate and energy has its own challenges

These visits were complemented by presentations by Wolfgang Schwarz, recently retired from the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Family, and Dorothea Carl from the Independent Institute for Environmental Issues (UfU) about a range of other projects related to education for sustainable development in the local area, including the Berlin Climate Schools competition and the European 50/50 initative.

Participants also had the chance to discuss the policies and strategies guiding the Energiewende with policymakers at the BMUB and the opportunity to gaze into the future during a visit to the EUREF Campus in Berlin-Schöneberg, which has already achieved the German government’s emissions reduction targets for 2050, with the latest ideas and innovations in the areas of e-mobility, renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency, smart grids, architecture, and urban planning.

Reporting on climate and energy has its own challenges, and journalists in this area can support each other by sharing information, resources and experiences.  The tour was an opportunity for journalists to forge networks and discuss collaboration with their peers across Central and Eastern Europe. Further, thanks to an evening event organised by Clean Energy Wire, they had the opportunity to engage with their peers in Germany and discuss the big stories for the year ahead and the role of the media in Europe’s transition to a low emission economy.