climate change

Analysis: As Germany’s government changes over, real climate solutions appear far off

Olaf Scholz – Germany’s likely next German Chancellor. Photo credit: Olaf Kosinsky – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 de – via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

After 16 years as Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel is stepping down which will also see an end to the Christian Democrats (CDU) as the governing party. 

The results of the ensuing 26th of September election was that the Social Democrats (SPD), who were Merkel’s coalition partners in the current government, narrowly pipped the CDU to claim victory. However, it is anticipated that the outcome will actually be a coalition government between the Greens, SPD and the Liberal party the Free Democratic Party (FDP). Unlike in other countries where the Greens sit on the far left, the Greens in Germany have moved to the centre to become a moderate centrist party, perhaps one of the reasons the voters put their trust in them as Germany’s now third-largest party.

SPD became the largest party as they won 206 seats – an increase in 53 seats, CDU won 196 seats – a decrease in 50 seats, Green 67 seats – an increase in 50 seats and FDP won 92 seats – an increase of 12 seats.

Climate concerns

Climate change played a much larger role in this election cycle than previously, even though the Germans have typically been concerned about the environment. Having said that, the economy has actually been the top issue with the protection of  Germany’s car industry and big global car brands such as Volkswagen, BMW etc taking focus. This is of course a contradictory to taking action on climate. 

But in this election cycle, climate change has been one of the key issues due to the devastating German floods earlier in the year showing how unprepared Europe’s largest economy is to climate impacts. In line with Germany’s unambitious climate policies with the country’s huge reliance on coal (with the government having set the late phase-out date of 2038), the German public is demanding change. Spurred on by their vocal youth, the German public has demanded more ambitious climate policies by bringing an end to CDU’s 16 year tenure as a governing party.

Germany’s likely next Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the leader of SDU, called himself the ‘green’ Chancellor during the election and said that Merkel’s government have not been ambitious enough on climate change. This is despite the fact he himself sat in the government as a finance minister.

Its not easy being green

Merkel had pinned her green credentials on the Energiwende – the rapid adoption of wind and solar and she earmarked another signature policy as a green move that of the phasing out of nuclear power. Following the Fukushima incident in Japan, the phase out of nuclear power was accelerated prompted by the fact that a large amount of Germans had turned against the low-carbon energy source. The idea was that solar and wind would displace nuclear power, but it did not go that way. As the government decommissioned one nuclear plant after the other, its reliance on coal power grew as well as the building of new coal mines. Germany’s increased reliance on coal power happened as other European countries rapidly reduced their reliance on coal, most notably in the UK. And France has kept its share of nuclear in its electricity portfolio; it never had much coal power in operation and as a result, has a much cleaner electricity grid. The two neighbouring central European countries have gone down two very different routes in order to bring emissions under control.

A climate government? 

The discussions about the new government will now commence, but it is unlikely there will be a decision before Christmas, meaning it is increasingly likely it will be Merkel’s government which will represent Germany at the crucial UN climate summit COP26.

But once confirmed, it is likely climate will play a crucial part in is discussions. But it is unlikely there will be any change in nuclear policy as the issue has become so toxic in Germany that no party will be brave enough to change course. It is being discussed whether  the coal phaseout target will be moved forward alongside the date for when the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned – the latter will be controversial and fought by industry. Carbon pricing could also be introduced, but we can expect a fierce debate in the coalition about how stringent it should be and which industries it should impact.

We can expect lots of climate promises to be made once the new German government is revealed l, but will the numbers match up as to what the science requires? One thing is for sure the German public expects it to do so, they voted for a climate government and will keep a close eye on the next government making sure they deliver.  

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