Get real

German industry urges Berlin to come together on climate change

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Listen up, world. Source: Reuters/Peter Nicholls

Germany needs to create a “climate cabinet” not only to get different ministries interacting about climate change but also to talk with industry, and come up with ways to prevent and mitigate climate change.

That’s the suggestion from Utz Tillmann, head of the chemical industry association VCI, who complains the lobby group can’t even get an appointment at the economics ministry, despite representing the third-largest industry in the country.

Many officials in government, and industry, are mulling measures on climate change that look ahead some 20 to 30 years, Mr. Tillmann said. But there’s no organized framework for the discussion. “The government always gets caught up in the small stuff and misses the big picture,” he said.

IPCC report hammers home urgency

The director designate of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Ottmar Edenhofer, echoed this criticism. “Climate policy is too focused on carbon dioxide instead of providing a concrete answer on how we achieve our climate goals,” he told Handelsblatt.

These considerations in Germany come just as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a new report calling for immediate action to keep the world’s global temperature from warming more than 1.5 degrees. Any warmer and catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate become unavoidable. Hans-Otto Pörtner, a climate scientist who worked on the report, said the next 10 years will be decisive as the world moves full speed ahead toward a 3-degree increase.

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Although Germany should be at the forefront, fighting for emissions reductions at the global level, it is hung up on debating the role of coal at home. The EU environment commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañeta, called for a 45-percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by 2030, but Berlin is resisting and insisting on the current EU’s 40-percent target.

A recently fledged coal commission

The only way to achieve global cooperation, Mr. Edenhofer said, is by putting a price on carbon. However, that measure is not even being discussed in Berlin, he complained.

The government just recently managed to impanel a coal commission after an arduous process, and that body is supposed to sketch a path for Germany to ditch coal forever. That also means figuring out how to keep the country’s brown-coal mining regions from fading economically. It is a politically sensitive project, despite the commission members recognizing the climate-change warnings.

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At the same time, Germany’s industry is growing increasingly skeptical about the country’s Energiewende, the plan to embrace renewable energy and phase out fossil fuels. “The mood regarding the Energiewende has reached a tipping point,” Eric Schweitzer, head of the German Chambers of Commerce, said. “Acceptance is dwindling away above all because of increasing prices for electricity.”

The price increases are hitting small and medium-sized companies especially hard. More than two-fifths are planning to install their own power-generation equipment, according to a recent survey. Others plan to invest in energy storage or to favor regional renewable energy production.

Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction, environmental policy, and climate change. Darrell Delamaide adapted this story into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: kersting@handelsblatt.com.

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