Rethinking the liberal strategy for environmental protection

Ahead of LI’s 200th executive committee meeting and climate change conference in Berlin this week, Frank Sitta MP, deputy leader of the Free Democrats Parliamentary Group in the German Bundestag, argues that while Liberals have similar environmental goals as the Greens, we must adopt a smarter strategy.

Liberalism and environmental protection? Does that work? Are liberals only interested in economics and fiscal policy? In the past, the perception has been that us Free Democrats are more concerned with economic interests than with an intact environment. While making a mockery about the attempts by Greens and the political Left to save the world by a planned economy, prohibition and re-education, we have often not expressed our environmental policy profile clearly enough: Freedom, individual opportunities, and economic prosperity are not in contradiction to a clean environment.

Freedom, individual opportunities, and economic prosperity are not in contradiction to a clean environment.

On the contrary, a sustainable environment is a prerequisite for the realisation of these political goals. Decades ago the great liberal politician Hans-Dietrich Genscher, with whom the FDP called the first Secretary for the Environment in the Federal Republic of Germany, concluded: “To the indispensable human rights belongs an environment in the best condition.” In fact, environmental issues, such as climate change, air and water pollution, and the loss of biodiversity, can be a risk to people’s lives, or at least jeopardize their livelihoods. No one should be left vulnerable to the environmental consequences of our economic actions.

Therefore, what distinguishes Free Democrats from other environmentalists is hardly the goal but our course of action for a clean environment. We make environmental policy for the people, not against them. We rely on people’s creativity to reduce pollution and to limit the use of resources. We are looking for cooperative solutions to solve resource conflicts. People should act of their own volition to sustain the natural environment. We do not want to surrender the fight against climate change to those who rely on a planned economy and prohibitions.

For us, market incentives are the right answer to environmental issues. Our idea of ​​environmental policy is not directed against the economy. Instead, we rely on environmental instruments that inspire market innovations. We want to reduce environmental pollution costs in a competitive, technology neutral market to achieve the most effective solutions. We reject expensive symbolic policies as well as green subsidies in the interested of a few people benefit, but to the detriment of the general public.

We also rely on the social market economy for environmental protection: it has proven its efficiency repeatedly. But above all, it relies on freedom instead of coercion. We are convinced that there must be a democratic consensus on the goals of environmental policy. However, we want people, consumers and producers alike, to decide freely how to achieve these goals.

Thus, our climate protection instrument of choice is an emissions trading scheme across all sectors with clear targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Market prices should speak the ecological truth without raising the budgets of the governments. Economic development and the promotion of global trade should be prioritised, to overcome poverty – the number one consequence of climate change – as rapidly as possible.

We must not obstruct individual freedoms of our people through well-meaning but poorly designed environmental policies.

We strengthen markets and competition to use natural resources efficiently. We are convinced that the incentives of secure property rights contribute more to the conservation of resources than regulating the use of resources. To end the plastic pollution of the oceans, we rely on a competitive recycling system with few rules. But we do not support a campaign against plastic. Prohibitions, quotas and duties are expensive distractions. We are guided by scientific findings in the evaluation of environmental issues and reject ecological pessimism and alarmism.

We need the world’s best environmental education to help people better understand natural and social contexts and advance creative environmental protection solutions. Environmental policy should promote, not hinder, the progress of one’s own performance. Self-determination in all circumstances applies to environmental policy as well. Otherwise, the acceptance of the people for the necessary environmental protection measures is in danger. Limitations of freedom are only allowed if no other solution is in sight. Freedom and human rights worldwide are most likely to be guaranteed with an efficient environmental policy. We cannot afford to waste resources in environmental protection. Expensive environmental protection hinders innovation and creativity. We must not obstruct individual freedoms of our people through well-meaning but poorly designed environmental policies. In this regard, it is precisely the most vulnerable in society who deserve to be protected most. We need an uncomplicated state such that environmental protection does not stifle bureaucracy. Let’s rethink environmental protection.

Frank Sitta MP – Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Group of the Free Democrats in the German Bundestag

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