Germany: a Climate Leader or a Climate Laggard?

ECO was pleased to hear the German environment minister announcing a new pledge of €50 million for the Adaptation Fund (and the development minister adding another €50m for the Least Developed Countries Fund). This has been a welcome signal on day 1 of the COP23 – and all the other rich countries now have nearly two weeks to contemplate if they follow suit.

What the minister did not mention in her opening speech is that the current government has slowed down renewable energy expansion and failed to agree on a phase-out plan for coal. This is at odds with the majority of the German population who favour a coal exit. Last Saturday, Bonn saw the largest climate march ever in Germany, with people demanding climate justice and a rapid coal phase-out. It may have slipped some delegates’ attention, but Bonn is not even 50km from the Rhineland coalfields, Europe’s largest source of carbon pollution with huge open-pit lignite mines and coal power stations.

In fact, German greenhouse gas emissions have not gone down for the past 8 years. Germany is going to miss its domestic 2020 reduction target of 40% compared to 1990 levels by a wide margin if the new government does not act decisively. During the election campaign, Chancellor Merkel made a public promise that her next government will meet the target. The only way to achieve that will be to shut down  the oldest and dirtiest coal power stations. This would both be technically possible and economically feasible – but of course meets resistance from the big coal power utilities.

Now that the elections are over, four parties are meeting in Berlin almost every day to find out if they can form a coalition government. Three of the four parties (including Merkel’s own) so far refuse any measures needed to implement the Paris Agreement and to meet its own 2020 target.

Germany is very proud that COP23 is taking place in Bonn and doing its best to be a good technical host. ECO believes that it isn’t enough to ensure that there is good coffee and sufficient meeting space (although both are essential!). But true climate leadership at the side of the Fiji Presidency also means standing in solidarity with the vulnerable countries (alright, the €100m announced today is a step in this direction), and demonstrating ambitious climate actions.

Merkel had the G7 countries agree in 2015 on the need to decarbonize their economies and has contributed to getting the Paris Agreement together. Yet, all that is worth very little if it is not backed up with cutting emissions at home. Since ECO is convinced that Merkel’s promise to meet the 2020 target was sincere, delegates may wish to ask her, when she graces the COP23 with her attendance next week, how she intends to fulfil it.

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