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Germany's "climate cabinet" convenes as protests grow, fines for noncompliance loom and political impasses persist. The country could fall 10 points short of a deadline to cut emissions by 40% from 1990 levels.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met with fellow Cabinet members and dozens of international delegations at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue on Tuesday to discuss global climate change.
The event comes at a pivotal moment for Germany's environmental policy. The nation is staring down demands from the burgeoning Fridays for Future student movement and the likely possibility of missing its short-term and interim climate targets at great financial cost.
"Friday after Friday, young people in countless places around the world are making us look old," Maas said on Tuesday. "They demand that we do more to protect the environment. They demand that we not only recognize reality but also change it — that we change. It's about our existence."
As Germany looks less and less like a global pioneer in environmental protection, a special "climate cabinet" will begin meeting Wednesday to brainstorm ways to breathe life into stalled policies. It's already being met with skepticism from across the political spectrum.
Shifting to renewables?
In 2018, Germany sourced over 40% of its electricity from renewable sources, according to the Fraunhofer institute. It's also well on its way to shutting down all its nuclear reactors by 2022.
Such achievements made Germany's "Energiewende," or "energy transition," a household policy and gave Berlin the clout in 2015 to spearhead the adoption of the UN climate agreement reached in Paris that year, which seeks international cooperation to keep the global temperature increase since preindustrial times to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) in the 21st century.
Germany, however, is proving not to be up for the task: The country is poised to fall up to 10 points short of the government's self-imposed 2020 deadline for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels.
The Fridays for Future movement in Germany is an effort to call attention to the delays in abandoning energy from coal, ramping up the production of electric cars in earnest and banning agricultural pesticides.
On Monday, the members of the group, whose recent demonstrations in Berlin have drawn upwards of 10,000 people at a time, demanded that the government take steps to ensure net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and halt coal mining within 10 years.
The "climate cabinet" has been tasked with clarifying the short- and long-term plans.
The group is solely composed of ministers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, each of whom occupies a post critical to the effort: Environment Minister Svenja Schulze and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz represent the center-left Social Democrats; Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner come from Merkel's own center-right Christian Democrats (CDU); and Transportation Minister Andreas Scheuer and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer are from the CDU's Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union.
Though the government's short-term climate goals for 2020 are likely unreachable, the new body is intended to brainstorm ways to meet the next goal: reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030.
In March, Schulze distributed a plan to accomplish the task that would require all those ministries to immediately reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
That would prove difficult — especially in the areas of transportation, agriculture and housing. The domestic transportation sector has seen carbon-dioxide emissions increase by 20% since 1995, according to the German Environmental Agency. Meanwhile, methane emissions from overfertilization in industrial farming have barely budged since 1990, the agency reports.
Read more: Why veering Germans away from cars is tough
Under Schulze's plan, ministries that are unable to reduce their emissions to match international benchmarks would be forced to foot the cost for Germany to buy carbon credits from other EU member states. The Berlin-based think tank Agora recently calculated that that scenario could cost Germany at least €30 billion ($34 billion) in the sectors of building, transportation and agriculture alone.
The ministries that would be most affected by the plan are controlled by center-right politicians, turning the policy overhaul into a battle between coalition partners.
CDU leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is likely to be the party's candidate to succeed Merkel as chancellor, has already expressed her opposition to plans to hold individual government agencies accountable for emissions cuts, saying she "firmly believes" in a model that shares responsibility among ministries.
The climate cabinet is also being met with skepticism from the opposition. Anton Hofreiter, the environmental Green Party's leader in Parliament, told DW that it's a game of wait and see whether the government's newest project will actually bear fruit.
"The federal government has massively failed to protect the environment in the past, which is evident by the fact that we will desperately miss the environmental protection goals for 2020," Hofreiter said. "As such ... there is a danger that the climate protection targets for 2030 will also be missed — especially as we have a transportation minister who disastrously evades his tasks."