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Defer EU climate goals, top Merkel colleague urges

April 11, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic's effects are expected to cause a deep recession in Europe and elsewhere. A key German politician thinks the EU’s climate targets should be deferred in the face of the potential economic crisis.

Smoke billowing from a German power station
Image: Getty Images/L. Schulze

The coronavirus crisis calls for an urgent review of Germany's climate targets under goals set by the European Union, the leader of the economic council of the conservative Christian Democrat party (CDU) said on Saturday.

The COVID-19 pandemic is "putting the German economy to the test," and the EU should consider a "deferment of climate policy targets," Wolfgang Steiger said in comments published in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Steiger said the fallout from the pandemic on the economy could amount to a new "de-industrialization" of Germany. Experts are predicting a global recession as a result of the business shutdown and subsequent layoffs.

Germany has offered financial aid for many businesses and individuals affected by lockdowns and social distancing measures. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government pledged €750 billion in emergency aid funding in March to prop up the economy. Small companies and freelancers are eligible for up to €15,000 in direct subsidies, while larger companies can be stabilized with larger capital funds. 

Despite the huge stimulus, Steiger told the paper the German economy could, for now, do without the financial burden of climate change goals.

Read more: Corona stimulus plans overlook 'historic' chance for climate crisis

Farmers sue over climate change

Could the crisis help sustainability policy?

However, Germany's environment minister, Svenja Schulze, warned against "connecting climate protection and economic prosperity." It may be possible "to use the exit from the corona crisis to promote climate-compatible and sustainable economic structures," she said.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Morgan of the environmental activist group Greenpeace is among those who believe the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the weaknesses of the global economic system.

"We are being offered the chance to fundamentally change how things work," said Morgan of the shutdown brought about by the health emergency.

With flights grounded, some manufacturing limited and a reduction in commuting, global lockdowns may offer some temporary reprieve for global environmental problems like air pollution.

Read more: NGOs fear COP26 postponement could scuttle climate change policy

What are EU climate targets?

The EU's ambitious 2030 climate goals include a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels and at least a 32% market share for renewable energy. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has pledged that a large amount of the bloc's budget would go towards achieving the EU Green Deal.

On Thursday, EU finance ministers agreed to free up half a trillion euros to help limit the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. It is expected more investment may be needed in the coming months, depending on how long lockdowns continue.

In a meeting on March 26, EU leaders invited the commission to start working on a comprehensive coronavirus recovery plan, incorporating green transition.

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Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH Elliot Douglas
Elliot Douglas Elliot Douglas is a video, audio and online journalist based in Berlin.