Dr. Who plays 1970s hairstyles


Prof. Dr. Martin Jänicke

To person

born 1937, Research Center for Environmental Policy / Free University of Berlin. Active in political consultancy since 1974. 1999-2008 member of the Advisory Council for Environmental Issues. Research focus: environmental policy, energy / climate policy, international comparison, innovation research.

Today Germany plays a pioneering role in environmental policy. But that was not always so. Environmental policy as a national department is a novelty that only took institutional shape in the course of the 1970s. But where did this development begin? And how has this policy area changed?

Environmental activists spray railroad cars loaded with contaminated whey powder. The contamination was caused by the Chernobyl disaster. (& copy AP)

To the prehistory

As in other old industrialized countries (England or Holland), there were isolated legal regulations in Germany as early as the 19th century with regard to air or water pollution (Hünemörder 2004). The nature conservation movement also dates back to this time. Prussia established the first state nature conservation office among the German states in 1906. Nature conservation was named as a goal in the Weimar Constitution of 1919 (Art. 150) and regulated in the 1936 Reich Nature Conservation Act. In 1957, the Federal Republic of Germany introduced the Federal Water Act. However, environmental policy as a national department that encompasses the protection of important environmental media (air, water, soil) is a novelty that, as in other industrialized countries, only took institutional shape in the course of the 1970s.

The Brandt-Scheel government

The Federal Government under Chancellor Willy Brandt and Walter Scheel, which came into office in 1969, introduced the new policy field of "environmental policy". The (new) American environmental policy and the previously influential UN environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972 gave important impetus. The establishment of the new policy was then immediately tackled with an immediate program (1970), which was followed by an ambitious environmental program a year later detailed legislative roadmap and specific targets followed.

The countermovement began with the oil crisis, which led to a recessive economic development in 1974/75 and also influenced the change from Brandt to Helmut Schmidt (1974). Only now did the citizens' initiatives form a political force as an opposition. Paradoxically, these initiatives now demanded the ambitious goals previously announced by the government under Brandt and the then Interior Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (Jänicke et al. 2003).

The Kohl government

After a phase of environmental stagnation, especially at the end of the Schmidt government, the Christian-liberal federal government under Helmut Kohl, contrary to expectations, started a massive air pollution policy immediately after its election success in 1983. Under Minister of the Interior Zimmermann (CSU), measures were taken with the Large Combustion Systems Ordinance (1983) and emission regulations for vehicles that made Germany a pioneer in clean air policy in Europe.

Two factors have favored this innovation in environmental policy: On the one hand, the electoral success of the party "The Greens" at the federal level (1983) quickly led to environmental protection being anchored in the party system of the Federal Republic. On the other hand, the death of forests in the population as a whole had favored the issue of air pollution control. Against this background, the change of government offered the opportunity for a fresh start, which at the same time demonstrated a high degree of ability to act.

During the term of office of Environment Minister Klaus Töpfer (1987-94), Germany's pioneering role in environmental policy was further expanded. This applies to the Recycling and Waste Management Act passed in 1994. The Kohl government's climate protection policy, which has been prepared since 1987 by a study commission of the German Bundestag, also set international standards; the same applies to follow-up measures such as the feed-in tariff for electricity from alternative energies (1990).

At the latest with the formation of a new government after the Bundestag elections of 1994, there was a clear backward trend in German environmental policy. It became recognizable, among other things, by the restriction of public participation in the approval process. The Federal Republic of Germany was also one of the last industrialized countries to present a formal strategy for sustainable development in line with Agenda 21 adopted in Rio de Janeiro (1992). And this was only the "draft" of an environmental priority program that had not been approved by the cabinet.

In addition to this rather declining economic activity in environmental policy came the increasing opposition to a CO2-Energy tax, as well as resistance to the implementation of EC directives (such as the Flora-Fauna-Habitat Directive of 1992). The federal government was threatened with sanctions by the EU because it did not implement environmental protection regulations.

The setbacks were less due to the change of environment minister from Töpfer to Angela Merkel (1994) than to the fact that social and political priorities shifted after German unification to the detriment of environmental protection. After all, the Kohl government took office at the end of 1982 under the sign of a public alarm that the forest was dying. A few years later the nuclear debate (Chernobyl 1986) and the climate debate coincided and created good conditions for an ambitious environmental policy. These favorable framework conditions did not continue after German unification and the simultaneous economic downturn in the early 1990s, regardless of the fact that the political upheaval in the GDR was also largely supported by environmental groups.

Another cause of the change after 1994 can be considered likely: The "Töpfer Era" in particular led to a number of improvements in the area of ​​visible, most politicized air and water pollution - and thus also to a certain all-clear effect. Not least in the new federal states with their serious environmental problems, massive efforts led to significant environmental relief. The simultaneous massive rise in unemployment led to a rapid shift in priorities there.