Barbara Praetorius has been Professor of Sustainability, Environmental and Energy Economics and Policy at HTW Berlin since April 2017. She was one of the four chairpersons of the Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment ("Coal Commission") established by the German government. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ranks her among Germany’s most influential female economists.
What does it mean to you to be ranked among the most influential female economists by FAZ?
Of course, I’m very pleased – but at the same time I would like to see politicians with more courage when it comes to taking political action. My research and consulting topics revolve around political measures aimed at climate protection and a sustainable energy supply. Many proposals remain on the table unimplemented. Even with regard to the phasing out of coal, we’ve been waiting almost a year now for the concrete implementation of our proposals. The original targets – the first shutdowns of coal-fired power plants by 2020 – are unlikely to be achieved. And with regard to carbon pricing, I and many other colleagues have put forward solid concepts for introducing this in a climate-impacting and socially acceptable manner. The failed Climate Change Conference in Madrid in December 2019 once again shows how difficult it is for us to face the facts and take rigorous action, even though science has been showing us for decades what catastrophic consequences "business as usual" will have for our society and our future.
How would you like to use your influence?
It helps to contextualise climate change as a positive perspective for the future in teaching and policy advice. New technologies help to protect the climate, and this holds enormous opportunities for the economy. Renewable energies such as wind and solar power are already competitive today and provide the basis for sustainable development worldwide. Battery technology is also developing rapidly and of course it is absolutely essential that this is produced sustainably. Germany needs to make sure it doesn’t miss the boat here. With so many good ideas competing on the market, Germany should seize the chance to create new business models and new jobs. New technologies already employ more people than the conventional energy industry.
Where do you stand in the current debate?
I am lobbying for a government that will set a clear direction on the issue of climate change. We are in the midst of an existential crisis and will only be able to maintain our quality of life and leverage the opportunities if we change course as quickly as possible. Hardly anyone disputes this, but individuals are short-sighted and fear they will have to go without things. Rather than taking action, they like to point the finger at others who are also doing nothing. That is why we need clear government guidelines that everyone must adhere to, including effective carbon pricing, the regulated phasing out of coal and an active policy of funding and innovation for electromobility and energy efficiency.
Where on campus do you get your best ideas?
Over a relaxing cup tea while talking with my colleagues or staff in the cafeteria. Another place that is even more inspiring is the cycle paths between the university and Treptower Park, as I often have my most productive thoughts when I’m on my bike.
Who would you like to have coffee or tea with?
The youngest Nobel Prize winner for economics, Esther Duflo. She has been hugely inspiring in my teaching and research on development issues and I was very pleased when she received the award. The greatest challenge of our time is reconciling the principle of sustainability with development opportunities for people living in poverty. This is an issue I have endeavoured to address in my research project "InnoPiangua". It explores the situation of female mussel collectors living in peripheral regions and the issue of mangrove protection in Colombia.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome at HTW Berlin?
My biggest challenge at the university is still how to find the time to combine high-level research, good teaching and my family. Sometimes I wish I had a 36-hour day. Fortunately, the administration team at HTW Berlin provides excellent support with research funding acquisition and the administrative side of the projects is handled very well, so I’m very pleased about this. However, the time I have available to me for actually doing research is limited, so I’m very much looking forward to my first research semester, which is coming up soon. A number of interesting topics have arisen from my work on the Coal Commission and I’d like to focus more intensively on these issues.
Photos by: Alexander Rentsch
© HTW Berlin, Transfer- und Projektkommunikation
6 January 2020