As the world's last remaining grand duchy, Luxembourg has one of the highest rates of GDP per capita.

Luxembourg’s environment minister on the tiny country’s outsize goals

Carole Dieschbourg tells how the world’s 20th-smallest country is becoming a climate leader

Minister Carole Dieschbourg will speak at the Global Landscapes Forum Luxembourg 2019: Investment Case Symposium on 30 November. Learn more here.

The accomplishments of Luxembourg’s Minister for Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development Carole Dieschbourg run far and wide, not least of which is her being one of Europe’s youngest ministers to boot. She started her career in organic food production; published a book, The Mills of the Müllerthal, about the links between man and nature in Luxembourg through the course of history; and was a key leader of the European Union in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) negotiations, resulting in the pivotal Paris Agreement on climate change.

Now, six years into her run in office, she’s focusing on making Luxembourg a global leader in sustainability through completely reforming its building and transportation sectors, investing in domestic and international forest protection, creating an energy system based entirely on renewables and establishing Luxembourg as the center for sustainable finance. Most importantly, given the tiny size of the Grand Duchy and its resources, she believes that achieving these goals fundamentally requires teaming up with other countries, in turn pulling them further along the path toward sustainability too.

Luxembourg’s Minister for Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development Carole Dieschbourg. SIP/Yves Kortum
Luxembourg’s Minister for Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development Carole Dieschbourg. SIP/Yves Kortum

Why did you decide to devote your career to the environment?

I’m coming from the countryside. I lived next to an old watermill, which still functions. My mother was always a fighter for nature, she was very active in the NGO sector. And my father produced locally, so I had a strong connection with the country and the people living with nature. What gave me the impulse to go to politics was, first of all, that we fought a lot against nuclear energy during my childhood. And the second thing is that when I came back from university, I did see that [Luxembourg] developed in several areas, but we didn’t develop in nature protection or climate protection. Basically, I wanted to change things and help develop in a more sustainable way.

You were integral to the achievement of the Paris Agreement on climate change at COP 21. How did it feel?

I think everyone was really just happy. We jumped from the seats. We gave hope. But the second thought was that it was the beginning of something very big because we have this framework, and we now can scale up what we do because we have the five-year cycles [of countries increasing their ambitions]. I think with this bottom-up approach of the nationally determined contributions we can accelerate the work we do. But the big work is still ahead of us.

Luxembourg is working toward a clean energy transition. What progress is being made on this?

We have a CO2 reduction target for 2030, calculated from 2005 by 50 to 55 percent. How do we want to achieve it? We have a big economy, which needs lots of energy. So, efficiency is key. The less power we need, the less we need to produce. Secondly, for us, the solution for the climate crisis is renewable energy. During the last five years, we doubled solar power, we tripled wind power, but we plan to do much more for the future. We will not do this alone. We will work with the neighboring countries, together with other countries, in order to achieve these renewable energy targets.

For us, the biggest challenge is to have not only clean energy, to go for 100 percent renewable over time, but also to solve the transportation problem. More than 64 percent of our emissions come from transportation. We have to shift to other forms of mobility. During the last five years, we have already changed investment: two-thirds of public money today goes to public mobility and soft mobility. Basically, we have a lot of projects like the tram rail, the railway. The whole bicycle network is going to be more elaborate. Still there will be cars, so we have to go from fossil fuels to electric cars, or new technologies.

In the building sector, we have been the first country in Europe to only build efficient houses since 2017. In this sector, we reduced CO2 emissions by 12 percent over the last 10 years.

For other countries that would also like to make such a bold transition, would you have any advice to give them?

First of all, I have to say that we are not yet there. Per capita, we have very high emissions. I think it’s important that we, as ministers, work together in a whole government approach. We have to get out of silos and work together with, for instance, the finance ministry, economic affairs ministry, the foreign affairs ministry, corporation and development, and agriculture. Secondly, I think it’s important that we work with all levels of political engagement. Local authorities play a crucial role. We, in Luxembourg, have a Climate Pact. We give money to local authorities in order to develop their own climate strategies and really work with their people.

Third, I think that science plays a crucial role. Politicians have to listen to science.

Why is Luxembourg becoming the epicenter for sustainable finance?

We have been working a lot on climate finance. Together with U.N. Environment, civil society and also the finance sector, we developed in 2018 a sustainable finance roadmap and established a platform to really guide us and put this into reality – to create an ecosystem that enables and accelerates transition.

We established very early in 2014 to 2015 the climate finance task force, which was dedicated to see what tools that we, as a government, would need in order to motivate the finance sector to shift the trends. Luxembourg has also established that we are spending EUR 200 million in the period 2021 to 2025 – nearly double what we did in the last period – on international climate finance.

The biggest challenge is really to shift the trends to mainstream sustainable and climate finance. That’s why we created in June of last year the Climate Finance Accelerator in order to give advice and to build capacity with young finance managers in order to create new funds.

We also established a Climate Finance Platform together with the EIB, which is a de-risking instrument where we take the guarantee in order to boost the creativity that we need for creating a better future.

Luxembourg has developed new forest policy in the past couple of years. What can a small country like Luxembourg do for forests on a global scale?

We have to do our homework. I developed a new law that will be discussed on protecting the forests. [We need] good forest policies and sustainable management implemented, and also legislation for illegal products of the forests.

Everyone has a responsibility, from the consumption that we do in our country and the policies that we put in place to creating new opportunities together with other countries in order to preserve their natural capital. Forests are the lungs and the heart of the earth. So if we destroy them, if we destroy the natural habitat of lots of species, we will destroy ourselves.

What are some other climate priorities for Luxembourg at the moment?

At the moment, if it comes to international negotiations, I think making the link between biodiversity protection, ocean protection, and recognizing the important role of forests is really important. Also, developing in a sustainable way by respecting human rights, by respecting the important role of women and Indigenous peoples in this process is of utmost importance.

In international decision-making, you’ve stressed the importance of European Union countries having a unified voice. Why?

I think it’s of utmost importance – and you see it, especially when you’re a small country –that big progress is made when we are working all together. Europe has always been a leader in climate transition and was the first continent to decide about climate directive and regulations on a continental scale. If we speak together, we are stronger. If we unify the forces, we are stronger.

Is it difficult to bring countries together?

Of course. We have different starting points. And there are differences between the development of countries, even in Europe. We have to listen to each other to be comprehensive because there are regions where we will lose jobs. But I think we will develop because we are creative enough… and also because there’s a very strong linkage between climate change, cleaner air, better living quality in towns, and also smarter jobs.

Is there anything that you learned in that process that you apply to your life and work now?

By doing this research on the region and all the families there, you are very humbled, because you see what people achieved in very hard times. You see how people reacted to crises. And I think what I still remember is a lot of the stories. You question yourself a lot. And you get very, yes, connected with the region. And this sometimes helps me out.



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