“Our common task is to not stop being critical and demanding, and we need to be vocal, show that we are a critical mass with political ideas that need to be acknowledged.”
A job she has dreamed of since her studies, Antje von Broock is Deputy Director for Communication and Policy at BUND, the German counterpart of Friends of the Earth. “It feels good to do something meaningful”, she says about her job, and adds, “Doing this within a network like Friends of the Earth is a wonderful add on.”
Before being part of BUND’s management team, Antje ran the German office of Elisabeth Schroedter, a German politician who was a Member of the European Parliament in the Alliance ‘90/The Greens from 1994 to 2014. Antje confessed that she has never owned a car, and probably never will. She also didn’t have to do much to convince her daughter to ride her bike everyday, who told us she dreams of “a city where you can talk to your friends while riding your bikes because there is no traffic noise.”
We asked Antje about her work with BUND and had a candid discussion on her opinions of Germany’s political stance on environmental issues.
Hello Antje von Broock and thank you for your time. First and foremost, what is your story? Where does your commitment to the environment come from?
As a teenager, I became aware of the cruel circumstances in which animals are being kept, transported and slaughtered for meat production. This led me to become a vegetarian, that was a first step in this commitment. Later on, I unfolded a growing interest in politics focusing on environmental policy. During my university studies, I decided to dedicate every holiday to do internships at various institutions such as BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany. There, I discovered that it was possible to concretely work for a change. Ever since this thrilling internship, I have wished I could work for BUND one day. This dream became a reality five years later.
What are the main missions of the BUND?
This is simple and fits into three words: mobilise, resist, transform. These are the missions we share with the international network of Friends of the Earth. In our daily work we uncover economic and political patterns that lead to the destruction of our planet, we mobilise people against wrong solutions and we develop alternatives which we try to promote widely.
To give you an example: it is by far cheaper to buy a new a device than to fix a broken one. The reason is that labour is more expensive than the use of resources. To address this issue, BUND tries to promote repair cafés and lobbies for different taxation in regards to repair services.
Let’s talk about an other example in the context of the Energiewende. Renewables are often accused for raising energy prices which of course could lead to diminishing support for the Energiewende. Whenever this discussion comes up, we point to the subsidies and the indirect costs of fossil fuels (such as health damage and climate change). We also promote citizen’s energy projects in which citizens do not only plan and realise renewable energy projects but also hold shares and profit from them.
What is the BUND political approach in terms of environmental policy?
BUND aims for sustainability and sufficiency, meaning that we should not use more natural resources and capacities than can be recovered within our lifetime and that we should leave enough space for the generations to come. The atmosphere, the soil and the oceans have limited capacities to take on CO2 emissions, fertilisers and other human leftovers. We therefore need to cut down our consumption and consider consuming less. Use less — live better!
If I understand, BUND gets involved in policy making processes on environment issues, climate, transport, chemicals, agriculture, etc. Can you explain your role in policy making processes?
When there is a legal initiative in the German parliament, civil society has a right to be heard. In this processes we submit written statements or speak as experts in official hearings. Of course we also make our standpoints public through the media and social networks. Where public pressure is needed, we run campaigns to make our voice be heard louder.
We recently mobilised civilians to create a human chain along an open mine pit in West Germany. 3,000 people, mostly dressed in red, formed a “red line” against coal. The media reported quite a lot about this action and a forest which, due to be cut down, is now saved. Or at least until a court decision next month.
How is your relationship with the German government?
BUND is known as a critical and demanding advocate for environment and nature. The government is aware of our capacity to mobilise. Our strength is our public support and our membership base. We count more than 580,000 members and supporters. That is comparable to the membership figures of both CDU (conservative party) and SPD (social democrats). That’s why they take us seriously and consider us as a relevant partner.
Yet, of course, some ministries feel closer aligned with other stakeholders such as the ministry for transport with the association of car building companies. That is the reason why chancellor Merkel blocked the EU plan on limiting emissions from new cars and agreed to a public fund of 250,000 million euros that aim to assist the cities in establishing measures to meet the air quality standards instead of implementing a selling band for cars that do not meet the Nitrogen Oxides standards.
What do you think of Merkel’s global action to fight climate change since she has been in office?
Merkel is great in using the momentum of events such as international summits like the G7, G20, or the COPs. Yet, her announcements are not in line with her climate performance at home. She is not willing to reconsider the national climate targets after Paris, she was voting against stricter CO2 limits to cars in Brussels and she is not starting the coal phaseout which we need if we want to hit our national 2020 target: 40% reductions from the 1990 level.
What can we do to push politicians to do more?
This is of course, a difficult question to answer. If I only knew, we would be in a different place. But I guess, our common task is to not stop being critical and demanding, and we need to be vocal, show that we are a critical mass with political ideas that need to be acknowledged.
Do you work with other organisations, for instance in Europe, in order to change things globally?
We are the German group of Friends of the Earth and do exchange with our partner groups in Friends of the Earth Europe and International. We support each other in our individual and common campaigns e.g. through social media and common lobby letters. Friends of the Earth Europe supports us hugely by making our demands visible in Brussels and by coordinating common positions and actions. Our last big common action was planned to happen in Paris during the COP21. After the terror attack we had to change our plans drastically and reduced it mainly to a get-together. This was important for the network as we felt the strength coming from a community.
As a lobby group, what’s the main message that BUND is transmitting?
In regards to climate protection, we need to do as much as possible as soon as possible. Time is flying and the last 20% of reductions will be harder than the first 60%. That is why we need to phase out coal power as early as possible, latest 2030.
Concretely, can you tell us about a couple of the most recent battles that BUND has pursued? What were the goals, the development and the results?
The first example is that our constant advocacy and media work helped us to get the 1.5 Celsius limit into the Paris agreement. We are now pushing for an adaptation of the German climate target. We do this in stakeholder rounds hosted by the government, as well as through media and mobilisation work on coal phaseout. Our aim is a halt to burning coal earlier than 2030. We are not there yet, but the need to phase out is now widely accepted as an inevitable fact.
Another example is our work around air quality standards, that help us to push for a change in mobility patterns and a decarbonisation of transport. Our campaign against diesel emissions will most likely lead to concrete measures in Stuttgart (such as a diesel ban) and will hopefully be followed by other cities. We put forward a legal complaint that demands a selling ban for new diesel cars which do not meet the EU standards.
How can our readers help you to pursue your missions?
Support our work by signing our petitions, coming to our rallies and demonstrations, supporting us financially or becoming a member.
Interview by Anne-Sophie Garrigou