By Anders Lorenzen
For a while now Germany, alongside other European countries, has been touted as a climate leader. Their current acting chancellor (and to be expected soon to serve her fourth consecutive term, once a coalition agreement has been reached), Angela Merkel, has always been happy to call for action on climate change and massive deployments of solar and wind have been seen in the country.
This year’s COP23 climate negotiations also took place in Germany as the host nation, Fiji, does not have the capabilities to do so. Noting also that the headquarters of the UN umbrella organisation which hosts these talks, the UNFCCC, is based in Germany, it’s easy to see Germany and Merkel’s climate leadership right?
However, there is a big problem here. Post the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, Germany had a big decision to make: nuclear or coal? Unfortunately for the climate, the answer was coal. Merkel wanted to maintain her popularity above anything else, and phasing out nuclear was always going to be a popular choice. At a time where, at least in the western and developed EU, coal is very much in decline – with the likes of the UK and Scandinavia well underway with their goal to say goodbye to coal and France’s historical preference of nuclear – a point of departure has been reached in Germany’s story. Not only has Merkel and her government failed to phase out coal, they’re actively increasing the use of the dirty fuel, the energy source which is the most responsible for climate change. A Washington Post investigation has found that German villages have had to give way for the expansion of new German mega coal mines, with over 8,000 people being displaced whilst iconic buildings, hospitals, and infrastructure is demolished. The gigantic mines paint a picture that we are not used to seeing in western Europe, bearing more resemblance to the large industrial super mining sites seen at the tar sands in Alberta, yet all this is can be seen in Germany, a self-styled leader on climate.
As a result, while emissions are dropping year on year in developed European countries, in Germany they’re increasing. This is bad news when it comes to tackling climate change, and could end up being catastrophic, maybe Germany is more a climate villain after all. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot thinks so.
Adding solar panels and wind farms to an energy portfolio is of course well received, and we can for sure consider Germany a clean energy leader. But the nation has still not overcome issues surrounding the distribution of the energy between the high consuming south and the high producing north – a whole different story. But fundamentally, climate leadership is about cutting emissions not increasing them.
The hypocrisy is there for all to see, but few are taking notice. Germany playing host to a global climate conference at a location only an hour’s drive away from rapidly expanding coal mines actively making climate change worse is a sour contradiction. Germany has a climate and coal problem, and a big one at that.
Germany and Merkel evidently have some big decisions to make, will they act for the greater good of the climate and for the time being halt nuclear decommission? Or will they act in self-interest and do nothing but continue business as usual, with drastic consequences for humanity and the global climate? With Merkel’s track record of sheepishly following trends in public opinion, unfortunately, it might be the latter.