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German government accused of watering down climate bill

October 7, 2019

The German government has rejected claims that several elements of its proposed climate change law had been scaled back. Critics say the original bill was already too weak to allow Germany to reach global climate goals.

Climate activists' camp in Berlin
Image: imago images/A. Friedrichs

The German government hit back against accusations that recent changes to its climate bill would weaken its effectiveness.  

"The core is yearly climate goals for every single sector from 2020 until 2030. This way no one can shirk their responsibilities," said a spokesman for the government on Monday in Berlin. 

The Environment Ministry published a draft of the new climate protection law, set to be adopted by Germany's government this week, online over the weekend. Spiegel magazine reported Sunday that the draft had been significantly watered down from earlier proposals, sparking heated debate.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze of the SPD rejected the accusations on Twitter, "I've fought long and hard for the climate bill. That it's legally binding, that every industry must fulfill their targets, and that there's a security net when goals aren't reached. We now have all of that in black and white!"

Merkel herself spoke out in defense of the current iteration, saying that the goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 2030 are "clearly entrenched in the climate bill" and that she "wouldn't allow it to be adopted otherwise." 


Several lawmakers slammed the changes following the Spiegel report. Senior SPD representative Karl Lauterbach warned against standing "on the wrong side of history."

"If the climate protection package gets even more weakened by the conservatives, it will be just a paper tiger," he said.

Britta Hasselmann from the opposition Green party described the changes to the bill as a "declaration of bankruptcy."

"Incredible!" she wrote on Twitter, noting that even the original proposal would not be able to deliver on the goals set by the Paris climate accords. "It would seem that the government is lagging behind even that — it can't get any worse," she added.

The timing of the report could prove to be particularly harmful for the ruling coalition. On Monday, the global Extinction Rebellion movement staged worldwide protests to protect the climate. The activists protested the limitation of the upcoming climate law in Berlin. 

Read moreExtinction Rebellion: How far can the protests go?

The changes

According to Spiegel, German officials have cut the goal to limit national CO2 emission by 2040. Also, the latest version of the bill drops the pledge that Germany would reach greenhouse-gas neutrality by 2050. Instead, it only says this goal should be "pursued."

Another change considers the national climate council, the body of experts appointed by the government. The final draft removes the demand for the council to produce a yearly evaluation report. Also, the experts would no longer be required to provide advice to ministries on adjusting their CO2 rate to keep them on track.

However, the bill keeps the goal for Germany to reduce its CO2 emissions by 2030 to a level corresponding to 55% of what the nation's output was in 1990.

Conservatives opposed

The partners in Germany's ruling coalition, Angela Merkel's conservative bloc and the center-left SPD, debated on a new climate protection bill in March. The proposals circulated at the time envisioned a much deeper change than the law's current iteration seen by Spiegel. Even so, climate activists and political opponents slammed the original draft as insufficient.

Read more: Will Germany go from leader to loser on climate protection?

The conservative bloc has since pushed for the law to be scaled back, according to sources inside the ruling coalition cited by the magazine.

Final agreement could come as early as Wednesday, though the voting process could push the decision out by as much as a week. 

kp,dj/ng (dpa, AFP, dpa, epd, Reuters)

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