Opinion: German coalition hopefuls drop climate goals | Opinion | DW | 09.01.2018
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Opinion: German coalition hopefuls drop climate goals

Preliminary grand coalition talks have just restarted, but already, the parties involved have given up the 2020 climate goals. It's a disaster for climate protection policy but also an opportunity, says DW's Jens Thurau.

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This time, the Christian Democrats (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) had vowed not to leak the contents of their preliminary coalition talks to anyone. That pledge didn't last long, and accordingly politicians in Berlin are alarmed by reports of a cancellation of the climate goals for 2020 by a possible future new government. That would amount to deceiving voters, the opposition says, and rightfully so, pointing out that both Chancellor Angela Merkel and SPD leader Martin Schulz promised to somehow meet the emission reduction targets of 40 percent by 2020.

Germany has managed about 30 percent already, but time is short and it seems more of an effort would have been required to meet the target by 2020. Germany would have had to shut down many older, dirtier coal-fueled power plants and taken more aggressive steps in the traffic and agriculture sectors. The potential new government doesn't seem to trust itself to reach that goal. That is unfortunate.

At least they're honest

On the other hand, at least they are honest in recognizing that they can't meet the target. The fact that the goals are barely reachable had already been whispered within the parties and ministries. As usual when a project fails, compliance is pushed to a future date. It appears the coalition hopefuls do want to hold on to the goal of reducing emissions by 55 percent by 2030. But that is another 12 years down the road, and even Angela Merkel won't be in office anymore.

Giving up the climate goal is logical, and it fits the country's climate policies over the past few years. Politicians in general seem to feel that after quitting nuclear energy and moving strongly toward wind and solar energy, they've done enough to save the world. The Chancellor's plan to put one million electric cars on Germany's streets by 2020 simply vanished because it is not doable. At the start of 2017, there were just over 30,000 electric cars in Germany. Way off the mark is a nice way of putting it.

Legislation for a coal exit

Back to the climate objectives: the decision to drop the goal of meeting the reduction target also has a positive side. The CDU, the CSU and the SPD now plan to come up with concrete legislation for a coal exit.

The environment minister actually had that same idea during the last legislature, but met with opposition from the economics minister and the chancellor's office. The coal exit is the country's most important climate task for the next few years. If there is a binding agreement now, it doesn't matter if takes a few years before they get started. That would certainly be better than more grandiose promises no one keeps.

DW's Jens Thurau

DW's Jens Thurau

Try modesty

Germany at this point should take a much more modest approach on climate issues on an international stage. Eastern European states, for instance Ukraine, no longer intend to put up with the country's superior attitude on reducing greenhouse gases.

The next UN climate conference takes place in December in the Polish city of Katowice, and Poland is unlikely to let the opportunity pass to point a finger at its unpopular neighbor Germany. Germany's environment-friendly Greens party – which would have negotiated ambitious coal exit plans had last year's exploratory "Jamaica" coalition talks not failed – sees the coalition hopefuls' quick decision to abandon the climate goal as an economic stimulus plan.

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