For the next two weeks, from November 6 to 17, Germany will once again play one of its favorite roles: that of savior of the world, or at least of its climate. World leaders, ministers, boffins and journalists from 197 countries will be descending on little Rhenish Bonn, home of the United Nations bureaucracy dealing with climate change, for their annual environmental powwow. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, will be speaking, of course – maybe even in a joint address with French President Emmanuel Macron.
The big objective of the conference hardly sounds ambitious. It is to reaffirm, or somehow salvage, the world’s collective commitment made two years ago in Paris to limit the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius this century. That this goal even needs saving, of course, has to do with Donald Trump, president of the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. He has backed out of his predecessor’s commitment made in Paris.
Why? Because the predecessor was named Barack Obama, which is reason enough for Mr. Trump. Also: America First, and all that. World last.
But Germans and others should stop feeling smug. That’s because the collective commitments to cut greenhouse gases, even without America’s part, are still far from sufficient to keep warming at plus 2 degrees. And Germany, in particular, is falling short of expectations, as Handelsblatt reported this week after seeing internal government papers. The big problem is that, while Germany is phasing out nuclear power and increasing wind and solar sources, it is still hooked on coal.
Whether Germany can wean itself from coal is now one of the big questions being discussed by the four parties who are expected to form Germany’s next governing coalition. One of these, The Greens, wants out of coal, and fast – but with questionable economics. Two of the others, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Bavarian Christian Social Union, have better economics but insufficient urgency about the coal exit.
Germany can’t save or condemn the world all by itself, of course. Here’s hoping that it at least plays its supporting role as well as possible.
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