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Opinion: Off to Morocco, empty-handed

The German government has been unable to adopt its Climate Action Plan 2050 before the climate conference in Marrakesh. DW's Jens Thurau finds this embarrassing.

It's something they always like to hear at climate conferences, those Germans: That they are the trailblazers of greenhouse gas reduction, the worldwide pioneers of transitioning to sustainable energy, of clean industry.

After all, which other industrialized country has cut back as much on greenhouse gas emissions (around 27 percent at the moment) as Germany has? Germany: Super Climateland.

The words "beyond 2 degrees" were proudly emblazoned on the German pavilion at last year's legendary Paris conference. The pavilion quickly became the place to be for negotiators, environmental activists, and media people from all over the world. Germany, miles ahead.

There's just one problem: At home, the vigor of the praises sung on the international stage has quickly waned. Germany's governing coalition had resolved to draw up a concrete timetable for its climate policy until 2050.

This should have included a description of how Germany intends to achieve its next target (40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions by 2020). Not to mention, when the country will finally part ways with coal, as well as how to fight the continuing high emissions of both transportation and agriculture. And ultimately, how the high aim of climate neutrality - as personally announced by the chancellor at the G7 conference last year in Germany - would be achieved by mid-century.

DW's Jens Thurau

Jens Thurau has covered climate conferences for DW for a decade

The environment ministry's proposal, however, has been carved up into little pieces by various other ministers - particularly by the economics minister (former Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel from the center-left Social Democrats), and in the chancellery by Angela Merkel (former environment minister from the center-right Christian Democrats), and by her right-hand man, Peter Altmaier (another former environment minister, also of the Christian Democrats).

Now, the plan is nothing more than a non-binding list of good intentions. On the basis of these pathetic remains, there's no agreement ahead of this year's climate conference in Marrakesh.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has called out loudly, although belatedly, for her boss to put her foot down. But this is unlikely to happen. So Hendricks will be going to the annual climate conference, which starts next week, empty-handed.

One reason is probably that Germany's politicians have more pressing concerns at the moment: refugees, right-wing populism, international crises, Syria, Ukraine. And a few long-neglected social issues, such as pensions.

Campaigns for 2017 elections will soon get started looking at all these problems. And at the same time, the transition to sustainable energy is quietly and calmly continuing across the land. So why bother with climate protection if we're already working on it? Building wind turbines and solar grids, and we've moved beyond nuclear energy. That's how the politicians think.

But the devil is in the detail. Germany's energy supply is heavily carbon-dependent, and many Social Democrats think that should be held onto as long as possible out of consideration for their majorities in the coal-producing states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg. And in the transport sector, German industry has ignored trends such as electric mobility.

The time has come to pick up the pace again. Few other countries have such good baseline conditions as Germany has to pursue ambitious climate protection. And that means Germany should take further steps, now. The fact that so much has already been achieved in the past is not an excuse for not doing more.

And without Germany as a credible driving force, it will be difficult to fulfill the big oath taken in Paris - the goal of a temperature rise of less than 2 degrees Celsius.


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