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Windräder in Dänemark
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Where did Germany's climate protection plan go?

Melanie Hall
November 2, 2016

Germany's glowing green credentials have been dented after it failed to agree a climate plan in time for the UN climate conference. Now the blame game begins over why Germany will attend the global summit empty-handed.


Germany’s failure to approve a national climate plan to bring to the table at the UN international climate conference has sparked a round of finger-pointing over who is responsible for the blow to the country’s green reputation.

German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has vented her frustrationover the prospect of representing her country at the talks in Marrakesh next week without any concrete measures on how it plans to meet the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

For a country so proud of being one of the earlier nations to ratify the Paris Agreement that sets out this goal, it is a significant loss of face. What happened?

Barbara Hendricks. Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/M.Becker
German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has lashed out at cabinet colleagues over the delayImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M.Becker

Watering down and wrangling

Eleven months on from the Paris Agreement, the Climate Protection Plan 2050 was supposed to show Germany’s contribution to pledges made as part of the vaunted climate treaty. The plan lays out how Germany will move away from fossil fuels and achieve its coal of cutting CO2 emissions up to 95 percent by 2050.

Hendricks presented a draft plan in April 2016, but many measures and objectives were removed at the request of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel before it was sent to the other ministries.

Bit by bit, the original contents of the draft have been chipped away, in particular by the agriculture and transport ministries. But even in its watered-down form, it still failed to meet the approval of cabinet ministers, who had been due to sign it on Wednesday - they are now expected to approve the plan in December.

The diluted version of the proposal abandons a timetable to exit coal-fired power generation and scrapping C02 emissions reduction goals for individual sectors. Instead, the new version proposes measures to ensure Germany will be "largely" greenhouse-gas neutral by the middle of this century.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Copyright: picture-alliance/Sven Simon
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticized for a long absence from the environment debateImage: picture-alliance/Sven Simon

Still the 'climate chancellor'?

Parties within the German coalition government have turned on each other over the debacle. Hendricks, a member of junior coalition party the Social Democrats (SPD), accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Democrats (CSU), of having a "blockade mentality" over the deal's postponement.

She has asked Merkel, once dubbed the "climate chancellor," to intervene, telling the Funke Media Group: "If the chancellor's policy competency is worth anything, the proposal should have come back almost unchanged from the ministries.”

Merkel has in recent months remained noticeably absent in the debate over Germany's plan to meet its ambitious climate goals.

Hendricks also urged other ministries to take Germany's climate commitments seriously, saying: "Some people still seem to believe that climate protection is solely the pleasure of the environment minister."

Georg Nüsslein, deputy parliamentary party leader of the CSU/CDU Union fraction, hit back at Hendricks' accusation of them delaying approval, saying: "The accusation that the Union would block the implementation of the Climate Protection Plan 2050 lacks any foundation."

He put the responsibility on the environment minister alone. "The previous draft of the Environment Ministry requires a very considerable amount of corrections," Nüsslein said.

"Climate protection only works when it's economically sustainable, ecologically efficient and socially compatible. Up until now, the climate protection plan hasn’t ensured that - quite the opposite."

Coal mining in Brandeburg, Germany. Copyright: picture-alliance/ZB/J. Kalaene
Ministers have been accused of giving too much consideration to the coal lobbyImage: picture-alliance/ZB/J. Kalaene

The blame game

Agriculture minister Christian Schmidt, a CSU member, also weighed in, warning on German radio against conveying the impression that one ministry is fighting against the other ministries for climate protection.

"The common goal unites us - the way there is to some extent marked differently," he said.

Anton Hofreiter, fraction leader of Germany's Green Party, accused Merkel of having said goodbye to climate protection long ago, telling the "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung" that the chancellor's ability to set guidelines limited itself "to watching while her ministers pay court to the coal lobby."

Environmental groups have also voiced outrage. Melanie Mattauch, European spokeswoman for international environmental organization 350.org, told DW: "Germany's lack of action on climate change is an absolute disgrace.

"The only way to keep global warming below the limits set out in the Paris Climate Agreement is to keep fossil fuels in the ground," Mattauch continued. For Germany, that means a rapid coal phase-out now, Mattauch thinks. "The government's failure to act is a result of the powerful influence of the fossil fuel lobby."

Merkel with Hendricks at the COP21 in Paris
Merkel (left) and Hendricks at the COP21 in Paris, where the historic agreement was pennedImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Watson

Tobias Austrup, political expert for energy and transport change at Greenpeace in Germany, called Germany "hypocritical" for celebrating ratification of the Paris climate agreement. "The Climate Protection Plan 2050 has been whittled down beyond recognition among the ministries."

Beyond Germany

How do other countries view Germany stalling on its climate change plan?

Asad Rehman, head of international climate at Friends of the Earth in the United Kingdom, told DW the delay "sends the wrong signal that Germany isn't that committed," and shows lacking "political will to deliver when a government ratifies the agreement but then doesn’t make concrete measures."

"We have been used to looking at Germany to say, look, it can be done," he told DW, referring for example to Germany's leading role in building out renewable energies.

But the failure to agree a plan affects "not just other countries around Germany like Poland, but it has a big knock-on effect beyond it."

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