Two years into its term, Germany's governing coalition on Thursday approved a 30-point package intended to improve climate protection and help meet its CO2 reduction goals.
Higher taxes for environmentally unfriendly cars are in the works
Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel called the package a "quantum leap." He said on Friday morning on German public broadcaster ARD that it would contribute to a 35 to 36 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2020, compared to 1990.
With additional government programs, Germany would reach its goal of 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2020.
Gabriel and Merkel went to Greenland last week to discuss climate protection
Higher taxes on gas-guzzling vehicles, greater emphasis on alternatives energy forms and stricter energy-saving requirements are at the core of the package's 30 points, according to reports.
These measures will make Germany one of the "most energy-efficient regions in the world," said Economics Minister Michael Glos, who had been involved in intense negotiations with Gabriel before Thursday's meeting. Glos is a member of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union, the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, while Gabriel is a Social Democrat.
At a joint presentation of the approved plan at the government's summer retreat at Meseberg Palace near Berlin, Gabriel and Glos said that several of the new laws would be considered by parliament before the end of the year, though the implementation of the individual points would be subject to review.
Expanded climate budget
The German cabinet met at Meseberg Palace
Oskar Lafontaine, chairman of the Left Party, called the coalition's environmental plan "much ado about nothing."
Gabriel countered by pointing out that Germany's climate protection budget this year amounted to 2.6 billion euros ($3.5 billion) -- 200 percent more than in 2005, when the coalition was founded. The new program would cost around 8 billion euros in total, but would ultimately save the country 13 billion euros, Gabriel said.
Thursday's climate announcement was part of a two-day conference marking the mid-point of the governing coalition's four-year term.
The shortage of skilled labor, Germany's military mission to Afghanistan and last weekend's attack on eight Indian men in eastern Germany were also on the agenda at the conference, which concludes on Friday.
Also on Thursday, on the margins of the coalition meeting, the German government decided together with four major nuclear energy companies to tighten safety measures in that sector.
"We have agreed to put in place steps that will further improve the safety climate at nuclear power plant operations within a year," said the environment ministry in a statement.
In a bid to improve safety, Environment Minister Gabriel proposed on Thursday that the oldest reactors be phased out earlier than planned and their workload transferred to more modern plants.
The move comes a month after two incidents at nuclear power plants in Germany sparked a national outcry and debate on safety in the branch.