How Merkel’s climate prudence contributed to the rise of the German Greens – POLITICO
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Angela Merkel was once called the “Chancellor of the climate”, but this title has been outdated for years.
In her final months in office, the German Chancellor scrambles to bolster her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party’s climate credentials and delay a surge of support for the Greens – who are expected to make big gains in the election federal governments in September.
The government’s climate challenge is highlighted this week; he introduced an updated climate law on Wednesday after the country’s Constitutional Court struck down parts of the old one.
Merkel has been much more successful in advancing the climate change agenda internationally than at home – where she has had to balance her own scientific background with competing political demands of powerful interests such as the auto and coal industries. As a result, it has helped fuel expectations for action on global warming, but has been disappointing in its follow-up – creating space for the Greens.
Merkel is the “master of the art of the possible, no [what’s] necessary, ”said Ottmar Edenhofer, director and chief economist of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Internationally, it has played a central role in advancing the climate agenda, hosting the first COP climate summit in Bonn in 1995, by concluding the first international climate agreement in Kyoto in 1997 and by placing global warming and decarbonization on the agenda of the club of rich countries of the G8 and G7 in 2007 and 2015.
Domestically, Germany has failed to effectively green its transport and building sectors and struggled to meet its 2020 climate target of reducing emissions by 40% from 1990 levels. Berlin n He was only saved from the political embarrassment of missing that target thanks to pandemic lockdowns, which shut down the economy – and emissions – for much of last year.
Speaking to a small group of civil society representatives last year, Merkel admitted that the climate was put on hold after the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 because the migration crisis took a long time. and effort, said Christoph Bals, head of the NGO Germanwatch. .
“But, I would say, that’s just not enough,” given its own calls for science-based policy aligned with the Paris Agreement’s call to keep global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, Bals said.
After tough negotiations, the government last year passed a phase-out of coal by 2038, including billions of dollars in compensation for affected power plant operators. But rather than a smooth exit from dirty fuel, the coal deal has been criticized as being too generous for coal utilities and too slow to deal with the climate emergency.
Opposition activists and politicians POLITICO spoke to also hammered home his recent record in negotiations at EU level. The Chancellor played a decisive role in the 2014 push that the EU adopts binding emission reductions for 2020 as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency targets. But Berlin – and Merkel herself – have actively stepped in to water down CO2 standards for cars and efforts to raise emission reduction targets that could increase costs for strategic German industries. Germany has also been slow to join a 2019 effort to adopt an EU climate neutrality target by 2050.
The careful calibration of political interests – the balance between industry, pressure groups and the complex politics of its grand coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU / CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) – was also a characteristic of the discussions around the German climate law of 2019. to clarify the country’s path to reduce its emissions by 55% by 2030.
The delicate compromise was denounced earlier this month by the country’s Constitutional Court, which ruled that the law was in part unconstitutional because it shifted the burden of painful cuts onto future generations.
This has led to a scramble between the Christian Democrats and the SPD to demonstrate their climate credentials at a time when both sides are vanishing in the polls – as the Greens, whose public support continues to climb, are watching.
Last week, Berlin announced plans to increase its 2030 emissions reduction target to 65%, from the current 55%, and aim for climate neutrality by 2045 instead of 2050. Cabinet must adopt the changes Wednesday.
“We are experiencing a real call for tenders on climate protection,” Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, a Social Democrat, said last week, announcing plans to increase Germany’s climate targets.
“We will see who the blockers are and who goes forward,” she said. German radio.
Key CDU / CSU politicians also went out of their way to show their newfound enthusiasm for the climate and, in an effort to distinguish themselves from the Greens, presented climate policy as an opportunity comparable to Germany’s economic miracle. post-war.
“Climate neutrality costs a lot of money, but our current way of life will cost us dearly in the future. This is why climate protection is not just a moral issue, but follows an economic logic. climate has now become a business case! ” Norbert Röttgen, CDU chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of the Bundestag parliament, say more the weekend.
“If we spoil this new chance, it’s our fault”, mentionned Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier, CDU member who called for climate action “one of the main priorities” following the court decision.
Too little, too late?
But it’s unclear whether the last-minute push will be enough to save Merkel’s climate legacy – or protect her Tories from a voting booth bombing in September.
“This is not a tactical failure but a political denial,” said Jürgen Trittin, a Green MP who succeeded Merkel as environment minister in 1998. “The grand coalition has, in part for reasons ideological, in part motivated by industrial lobbies, thwarted climate protection in Germany. and Europe. ”
However, the court ruling gives Merkel a chance to make up for missed opportunities and solidify an “exceptional climate legacy”, Edenhofer said.
Now it is up to Merkel to show that she is ready to push through the necessary measures, ranging from higher renewable energy targets to carbon pricing – all of which will require the Chancellor to achieve even more. political compromises.
The return of the Fridays for Future youth movement to the streets earlier this year is adding to the pressure.
“To qualify for an election in the 21st century, a party must tackle the climate crisis on its platform, and not just for survival or the PR effect,” said Luisa Neubauer, one of the stars. rising members of the movement and member of the Green Party.
“We saw that it could hit parties if they didn’t have it on the horizon – that was one of the achievements of the European elections,” she said, referring to the considerable gains made by green parties in parts of the bloc in 2019..
Merkel is making it clear that she is aware of the stakes – also to build confidence in her party’s ability to rise to the occasion. “For the sake of future generations around the world, we must act quickly and decisively to contain the dramatic consequences of global warming,” she said Thursday in an opening address to the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, a forum that ‘she founded 12 years ago. .
It was his last appearance at a world climate conference, but once again, his natural caution and deference to Germany’s national interests was on display.
Despite personal lobbying from British Prime Minister Bris Johnson, Merkel refused to make commitments to increase Germany’s climate finance, saying Berlin was already doing its fair share.
“She ruined everything,” said Jan Kowalzig of Oxfam. “This failed act of accountability is appalling.”
For some, the timing was hardly surprising.
“The ‘climate chancellor’ is a picture that doesn’t reflect reality,” said Hans-Werner Fell, a former Green MP who helped create the country’s renewable energy law, dismissing recent government climate rhetoric like a “panic reaction”.
Merkel may have said all the right things, “but she always did the opposite,” he said.
Karl Mathiesen contributed reporting.
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