climate change

Merkel’s Green Hypocrisy

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Global action on climate change could be in danger if Germany doesn’t play the role model – especially with a skeptical Trump administration.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Angela Merkel presided over a meeting this week of about 30 nations in Berlin, preparing for global talks on climate change in November.
    • Germany could miss the target it set itself in 2007 of cutting its emission by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, analysts warn.
    • Ms. Merkel has also intervened to delay and weaken EU reforms on vehicle emissions to protect the German auto industry.
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    Audio

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Angela Merkel
"Climate chancellor" Angela Merkel in Greenland: The German leader may no longer deserve that nickname, critics say. Source: Michael Kappeler / AP

A decade ago, Angela Merkel was feted as the “climate chancellor” for championing the fight against global warming. In 2007, she persuaded President George W. Bush to sign up to a pledge to limit global temperature rises to two degrees over pre-industrial levels. A few years later, she launched Germany’s green energy revolution to wean the country off fossil fuel by 2050.

This week, she once again urged nations to work together to fight climate change and said there would be economic benefits in doing so. That remark was an apparent bid to persuade US President Donald Trump to drop any plans to ditch the Paris climate accord, which seeks to stop the world using fossil fuels this century.

“We are responsible for each other,” Ms. Merkel told a meeting of about 30 nations in Berlin on Tuesday, preparing for global talks on climate change in November. “I am trying to convince doubters. There is still work to do.”

It was a message she likely reinforced at a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) leaders from the world’s leading industrial nations this weekend. But environmental experts said Ms. Merkel has long since stopped practicing what she preaches. “Not much is left of the climate chancellor of 10 years ago,” said Jan Kowalzig, a climate change analyst at Oxfam in Germany.

Around half the decline in German greenhouse gas emissions has resulted not from green policies but from the restructuring of the smoke-belching industry of the former communist eastern Germany following unification in 1990, said Mr. Kowalzig.

“She rallies the international community behind decarbonization but in Germany she hasn’t dared to set a clear timetable to phase out coal.”

Christoph Bals, Political director of Germanwatch

Since that revamp has been completed, the decline in German CO2 emissions has been modest and Germany will miss the target it set itself in 2007 of cutting its emission by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, he said.

“There have been no remarks by the chancellor let alone countermeasures,” he said.

Ms. Merkel has also intervened to delay and weaken EU reforms on vehicle emissions to protect the German auto industry, famed for its production of high-performance limousines and SUVs, green experts complained. Mr. Kowalzig accused Ms. Merkel of “going on her knees to the auto industry” even though it was the only sector that had failed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

Christoph Bals, political director of Germanwatch, a think tank, described the chancellor’s commitment to climate protection as “ambivalent.”

“Internationally she carries weight by stressing the importance of implementing climate goals but in the EU she picks up the phone to pare back CO2 standards for cars, and readily accepts that Germany is about to miss the 40 percent reduction goal by miles,” he said.

“She rallies the international community behind decarbonization but in Germany she hasn’t dared to set a clear timetable to phase out coal.”

In addition, Ms. Merkel’s coalition of conservatives and center-left Social Democrats has slowed down the expansion of renewable energy generation by setting upper limits, said environmental groups.

Meanwhile the reform of the EU’s CO2 permit trading scheme for cutting carbon emissions by European industries has been so tentative that it will fail to have much real impact on corporate investments until after 2030, they added.

And instead of taxing coal-fired power stations to make them less attractive to run, the government has agreed to pay utilities billions of euros in taxpayers’ money to keep them as a reserve source of energy.

Environmental experts said the new government formed after the next general election in September must implement the German Climate Action Plan 2050, approved by Ms. Merkel’s coalition last year to fulfil the nation’s obligations under the Paris climate agreement.

Top of its to-do list will be the phaseout of German coal mining and coal-fired power generation by 2030 or 2035 at the latest. Coal still accounts for around 40 percent of electricity generated in Germany and is viewed as an important pillar of the power supply as the country exits nuclear energy by 2022 and shifts to renewable energy.

If Ms. Merkel wins a fourth term, her coal policy will decide “whether she will bury the Paris climate agreement or become its strongest activist,” said Mr. Kowalzig.

Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction, environmental policy and climate change. To contact the author: kersting@handelsblatt.com

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