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Germany: Same old for environment?

Martin Kuebler with AFP, dpa, Reuters
February 8, 2018

The coalition set to govern Germany finally has its action plan. But what does it mean for the environment? Climate, energy, mobility, agriculture: DW analyzes the results in four key fields.

Steam rises from the Niederaussem coal-fired power plant next to a house with solar panels
Image: Getty Images/L. Schulze

The Social Democrats (SPD), along with the Christian Democrats and their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU), have agreed in principle on a coalition deal.

The SPD is expected to take control of some major portfolios, including finance, foreign affairs, labor — and environment, with current acting minister Barbara Hendricks likely to retain her position.

Read the full coalition agreement between the CDU, CSU and SPD (PDF in German).

The Greens, who tried to form an earlier coalition together with the conservatives and the pro-business Free Democrats following the September 24 election, have welcomed the new agreement — but said it had been cobbled together, and left too many gaps.

"Climate protection, the central future challenge, has been essentially sidelined," said new Green party leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck in a statement.

So what are the provisional agreement's key points on the environment?


A leaked draft agreement from January included broad, and broadly criticized, resignation that Germany's 2020 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals were already out of reach.

Contrary to this, negotiators have now agreed to do their best to stick with Germany's existing climate goals for 2020, and ramp them up for 2030 and 2050.

A special commission will be expected to come up with an "action plan" by the end of this year on how to hit the 2020 targets "as fast as possible," with different sectors setting their own climate goals.

Plans to phase out nuclear power would continue. By 2030, the government wants a 65 percent share of renewables in the power mix. In 2019 and 2020, there will also be additional tenders for wind and solar power of four gigawatt capacity, and the eventual creation of an offshore wind energy testing area. 

Read more: Europe breaks own renewables record — but can't keep up with China

"Concrete measures must follow fast to harness the potential for greenhouse gas reductions and for the modernization of our energy industry," said Peter Röttgen, managing director of the German Renewable Energy Federation.

"The renewables sector will judge the coalition by whether or not this promise will be kept for all sectors."

Greenpeace Germany was more sharply critical. Coalition partners "lack the courage and foresight to protect the climate and the environment," according to Sweelin Heuss, the head of Greenpeace Germany.

"By giving up the climate target for 2020, the coalition parties are delaying the overdue withdrawal from coal," she added, saying such decisions were only being pushed further down the line.

Many environmental groups believe that without a coal exit, Germany is not likely to meet its 2020 climate goals.

Habeck also sharply criticized the agreement, pointing out how it lacks a firm timeline to phase out coal-fired power generation, or a commitment to carbon prices, despite calls in support of such a move from the business sector.

"We must make greenhouse gas emissions in these areas [transport, agriculture, and heating sectors] more expensive," said Stefan Kapferer, head of utilities association BDEW. "Otherwise, the transport sector will not be able to reduce emissions rapidly."

EU warns Germany on air pollution


By 2030, the coalition government aims to invest in the rail network, doubling the number of passengers and increasing the share of goods transported by train.

Although Allianz Pro Schiene, which promotes the rail sector, welcomed the "gratifyingly concrete" plans, the VCD, an environmental transport non-profit group, warned that the approach to climate and advances in the transport sector were still "stuck in traffic."

Read more: EU Environment Commissioner rejects German plans to tackle air pollution

Leif Miller, managing director of the German environmental group NABU, called the coalition treaty "ambitious in nature protection, but without courage in transport and climate policy."

"With new record investment in transport projects, further habitats will become fragmented, and the inadequate approach to climate protection will put a lot of pressure on our ecosystems," he said.

In terms of personal transportation, the future government plans to give more support to electromobility and retrofit older vehicles to reduce diesel emissions, while increasing funding to find ways to reduce pollution from diesel engines. Here, Greenpeace faulted the plan for its vague promises and lack of concrete steps.

Environmentalists also criticized the lack of consequences for German automakers around Dieselgate, which has contributed to air pollution. "Advances in individual fields like public transport don't distract from the fact that courageous reforms are lacking," said Hubert Weiger, the head of Germany's version of Friends of the Earth, the Bund für Umwelt- und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND).

Although the coalition paper seeks to avoid diesel bans in cities, it doesn't address what measures might be necessary to prevent release of air pollution from vehicles, such as retrofitting cars equipped with manipulated exhaust sensors.


The controversial weed killer glyphosate, which was recently approved for use in the EU for another five years despite reported detrimental effects on insects and birds, will be phased out as soon as possible in Germany.

Patents on plant and animal genes will be banned, as will the cloning of animals for food production.

A new "animal welfare label" will be introduced to help guarantee better conditions at industrial farms, and food waste will be addressed by reviewing the current best-before dates on perishable products.

Joachim Rukwied, president of the German Farmers Association, praised the coalition agreement. But Weiger criticized the "lax, voluntary animal welfare label," saying it would bring "little improvement."

On glyphosate, Weiger also said the agreement came up short, and called for a binding phaseout date by 2021. "The future government must change its strategy and deliver an agricultural policy that protects biodiversity and insects, instead of further promoting agricultural deserts and industrial farming."

SPD members still have to approve the deal in a postal ballot, the results of which will be announced on March 4.

Martin Kuebler Senior editor and reporter living in Brussels, with a focus on environmental issues