As a climate activist, Kathrin Henneberger fought in the Rhineland lignite mining area to preserve villages and forests and was a spokeswoman for "Ende Gelände". She has been a member of the Bundestag for the Greens since last autumn. In the ntv.de interview, she talks about the climate movement, the availability of coal-fired power plants and self-portrayal in parliament.
ntv.de: Ms. Henneberger, you have been in the Bundestag for nine months now. Would you recommend other activists to take the same step?
Kathrin Henneberger: It very much depends on what the activists themselves want. But it is incredibly important that they also sit in parliament, I notice that every day in the Bundestag. It makes a difference when there are people with civil society experience of their own. Be it in the climate movement, sea rescue or in the fight against racism: The movements work in a very content-oriented, consensus-oriented and goal-oriented manner.
Not in a parliamentary group?
Indeed. But a concrete example: In the plenary session at "Ende Gelände" the discussion continues until there is a consensus. In contrast, majority decisions are made here in factions. In fact, listening closely and approaching each other are what shape it. Both ensure that you get an understanding of how important civil society actors are. Anyone who has been on a ship in the Mediterranean deals with the situation of refugees differently than someone who has only read about it.
When you ran for the Bundestag, you said that you didn't have the impression that the climate movement and the climate crisis were taken seriously in Parliament. Has that been confirmed?
Unfortunately, large parts of the Bundestag are still unwilling to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis. Or they recognize the crisis, but do not act accordingly. For example, it took a lot of persuasion to register a debate in the Bundestag on the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). If it's extremely difficult to discuss the latest scientific findings on the climate crisis, you can imagine what it's like otherwise.
In the last week before the summer break, however, the massive expansion of renewable energies was also decided.
With this legislative package, I don't know where some MPs have found their strength in the past few weeks. You must have worked non-stop, the workload was very heavy. But the topic of renewables also shows that there are many MPs who have recognized the seriousness of this crisis and are working very hard on it. And then there are other members of parliament who want to get started but are thwarted within the Bundestag or the ministries.
Do you also belong to this group?
I would very much like to reform mining law, the legal basis for opencast mining. But I have to wait for the responsible Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Of course, that only has limited capacities and they are being stretched to capacity by the Russian war of aggression in the Ukraine. Then it happens that projects get left behind. I'm currently on hold with mining law. Nevertheless, we have commissioned an expert opinion, which will be ready in autumn. It is legally examining how mining law can be reformed, especially with a view to climate compatibility. So there are always ways to advance your own projects.
How frustrating is it to end up in a waiting position like that?
The good thing is that as an activist I'm used to it. Again and again, when we were evicted, we came back and occupied again. I can't afford to be frustrated. I need all my strength to take at least small steps.
In its last week before the summer break, the Bundestag decided to keep coal-fired power plants on reserve longer. After you spoke Jens Spahn from the CDU in the debate, who said he was pleased that you, as an anti-coal activist, spoke on this topic. Were you also involved in the law?
As the responsible rapporteur for the Green Group, I received the law, checked it and negotiated changes with the traffic light coalition partners. For example, that lignite-fired power plants can only be connected to the grid again if the region's drinking water supply has been secured beforehand. The law on the availability of coal-fired power plants is intended for the case that we have to replace the electricity from the gas-fired power plants if there is no more gas from Russia and we get into an emergency. We are in this situation because Jens Spahn's party has not sufficiently expanded renewable energies for 16 years. I have written a very far-reaching motion for a resolution on this. It says that the Bundestag welcomes the village of Lützerath and that paragraph 48 of the coal phase-out law is to be deleted. It was inserted by the CDU and states that the Garzweiler II opencast mine is necessary from an energy perspective. In fact, it's unconstitutional.
With his comment, Spahn was probably alluding to the fact that you were active as an anti-coal activist at "Ende Gelände" before your time in the Bundestag.
What I do is this: I get a law, take responsibility and change it. With the motion for a resolution, I have added very far-reaching and progressive formulations that I have agreed with the coalition partners. Negotiations will soon begin to bring forward the phase-out of coal, and I will be responsible for that too. Maybe that's what distinguishes climate justice activists and politicians from the CDU: Some take responsibility and want to improve something with a view to the climate crisis. The others give speeches and waste 16 years without changing anything. Jens Spahn belongs to a party that has often had me evicted. His party often had the opportunity to make good decisions. Instead, they sent police officers to beat us.
What do you mean exactly?
In 2018, the then black and yellow state government cleared the Hambach Forest. There were many scenes of police violence against the people who stood protectively in front of the old trees. There have been many injuries and traumas. The eviction was subsequently found by the court to be illegal. During the eviction there were always situations in which I was able to talk to police officers. Some of them have told me clearly that they themselves do not understand the reason for their deployment, and the police union has also expressed criticism.
In the coalition, the Greens also have to make unwelcome compromises. Could it be that at some point there will be a crunch between the climate movement and the party?
Honestly, I like it when it crunches. In my opinion, they should actually push us much louder. Because the louder civil society is, the more wind there is in our sails. And we also scored a lot of points. For example, the 9-euro ticket is a huge green success. It was also insane how we had to negotiate the area of international climate finance.
At the UN climate conferences, there is an agreement that 100 billion US dollars will be made available for climate projects worldwide. Industrialized countries in particular must do their fair share. Germany has promised around 6 billion euros, so we are currently at around 4.3 billion euros. The Greens' demand is actually 8 to 10 billion euros. But we got a budget that was cut massively. In the various budget plans, we argued that there should still be an increase.
These are huge achievements, but they are not visible. This is perhaps also something I learned in my early days as a parliamentarian: often the things that make a big difference are not very visible. There are some politicians who don't like self-expression at all, but do a damn good job.
How optimistic are you that the climate crisis will still be overcome?
I don't like denying scientific facts. The probability is very high that we are about to exceed the 1.5 degree limit, as the IPCC reports also show. It's now about fighting for every tenth of a degree. The climate crisis is already affecting many regions of the world, destroying people's livelihoods. When the Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate was in the Rhineland a year ago, she said something very important: Even 1.2 degrees of global warming means hell for her village. We in Germany not only have a very strong infrastructure and economic power, we are also fortunate to live in a specific geographical location. That's why it's very important to me that the climate goals are geared towards ensuring that everyone in the world is doing well and not that we in the Global North just get through the next few decades. And that too will tip at some point. If we don't get the curve, we'll have four degrees of global warming by the end of the century. The situation is damn serious. And that's why I have to be pushed so that I don't get crushed in everyday life.
Sebastian Schneider spoke to Kathrin Henneberger
(This article was first published on Sunday, July 17, 2022.)