German politics and Europe’s climate commitments
Last year’s election results have led to unprecedented difficulties to build a new government in Germany. Despite heavy losses in parliamentary elections, Angela Merkel was re-elected as Chancellor for another four years. But the weakened position of the traditionally 2 largest parties – Angela Merkel’s conservative party CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats (SPD) – have made the traditional 2-party coalition extremely difficult, and almost led to Germany’s first 3-party-government ever.
The strong growth of the Green Party made many believe Germany would have to step up its climate commitments, with an initial hope for a 3-party coalition between the conservative CDU/CSU, the economic liberal party FDP and the Green Party – better known as the Jamaica coalition.
The Jamaica coalition – despite its great name – wasn’t to be, with no consensus between the Green and Pro-business Party. The second runner-up, the SPD, initiated new talks with Merkel hoping to form a Grand Coalition, the so-called GroKo.
Since the end of January, negotiating parties CDU/CSU and the Social Democrats (SPD) seem to have found common ground on energy and climate policy, and a coalition draft on both topics has been agreed upon, 4 months after the initial elections.
Why is all of this important? Because German politics has a major influence on climate actions in the whole EU: which parties form a government and what policy they agree on will have a big effect on Germany’s policies regarding climate, energy and mobility, among many other themes, for the next 4 years. Seeing that Germany is the EU’s largest emitter, and makes up more than 1/5th of the EU’s total GDP, the parties that sit at its head will be the ones to make or break Europe’s climate commitments.
Germany’s new Course on Climate & energy
What does this new political constellation mean for the climate and energy policy of Europe’s largest emitter? During coalition talks on January 31st, both coalition parties agreed on the outline for the policy measures on climate, energy and the environment for the government-to-be. And although other issues like finance and health still need to be agreed upon this week before an actual government can be formed, Germany’s course in terms of climate and energy has been settled.
And it is quite an upsetting course indeed. In the treaty, both parties admit that Germany’s climate goals for 2020 (reducing emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels) won’t be met. Instead, the new government will make up for that loss by making sure the country’s’ goals for 2030 (reducing emissions by 55 percent) will be reached “by all means”.
When leaked last week, the treaty was met with disappointment and frustration. “The energy, climate and environment chapter is not a great success for CDU, CSU, and SPD. Apparently, it’s enough for the grand coalition to muddle through somehow,” wrote Klaus Stratmann from Handelsblatt.
“[The results of the energy and climate working group] are in large parts without courage and weak. It’s especially disappointing that the negotiators could not bring themselves to reform the power taxes, levies and fees system. A lowering of the power tax would have made electricity more competitive in the transport and heating markets,” said Stefan Kapferer, head of utilities at the German Association of Energy and Water Industries.
The new coalition government seems to know where the difficulties lie in Germany’s energy system, but they shy away from making important decisions, writes Jakob Schlandt in an opinion piece in the Tagesspiegel. Delegating “unpleasant questions,” such as the coal exit, to a special commission, is irresponsible, writes Schlandt. “After all, this is about tough – in part social – distribution issues. Who carries the burden, who pays, who profits? To consider this is the fundamental task of the government.”
The head negotiators of the coalition talks, however, have praised the decisions on energy and climate policy as “a good compromise” (Armin Laschet, CDU) and a “huge step forward” (Barbara Hendricks, SPD). Laschet said the new government wanted to make Germany a pioneer in e-mobility by making it a location for battery cell production.
Hendricks, acting Environment Minister and leading climate negotiator for the SPD stated “We’ve taken a huge step forward on energy and climate policy. You may remember there was a cap on renewable energy expansion in the last legislative period. Now, the opposite will be true. By 2030, we want a 65 percent share of renewables in the power mix.”
Tobias Münchmeyer, Germany energy expert for Greenpeace, dismisses the optimism by the would-be coalition partners: “The grand coalition is ducking its responsibility to protect the climate. Long-term promises and vague commissions aim to disguise the fact the coalition treaty lacks teeth. The Chancellor today compromised her 2020 climate target promise. After 12 lost years for climate protection, Merkel wants to give away more valuable time. The coalition treaty must clearly state that the dirtiest coal power plants will be taken off the grid in the next two years. Otherwise, this grand coalition will be a dishonest and diminished force for climate protection.”
So what exactly is the new government its stance on Climate Action? Below, Climate Tracker summarizes the energy and climate policies of the new coalition, based on a draft of the coalition treaty from January 31st:
The original draft of the coalition treaty, agreed upon by both coalition parties on January 31st, can be seen here (In German):