Experts Unimpressed By Germany’s Climate Change Ambition

Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government released a positive evaluation of its work on climate change since it took office two years ago after the last German election in 2017.

“Much has already been achieved, a lot remains to be done,” the government’s evaluation states. It focuses largely on the €50 billion climate plan unveiled by the government in September, the plan to phase out coal by 2038, new auctions for renewables and support for electric cars.

But while climate experts agree there is much remaining to be done, they don’t share the government’s rosy assessment of the work done so far. Energy and climate policy observers surveyed by Berlin-based Clean Energy Wire gave the actions so far a grade of 3.7 points out of 10 in their own mid-term review. The assessment surveyed industry experts, researchers, campaigners and lobbyists.

“The coalition agreement from 2018 presented a good foundation,” said Hermann Albers, president of the German Wind Energy Association. But he said since then, this hasn’t translated to an ambitious timeline for action. “Even worse, the government creates a green power gap by assuming much too little electricity consumption by 2030 and has thus reduced the wind power expansion targets in the Climate Action Programme 2030. Thus it endangers the German industry’s decarbonization efforts, and this is not in line with today’s challenges.”

Michael Schäfer, head of climate and energy policy at WWF Germany, agreed: “The government has finally faced the problem of coal – but the path for phasing it out has to be improved during the next term. The proposed climate law is a second plus, something for which we have advocated for years. But the coalition has failed to take sufficient measures to reduce emissions.”

Katherina Reiche, chief executive of the German Association of Local Utilities, gave a more positive assessment: “In our view, there is real progress in some areas, while there is potential for improvement in others. Even if an assessment in the form of a mark does not fully reflect the complexity of these challenges, the rating of 5 appears to be fair.”

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations thought the government deserved a score of two. “The government is doing too little in terms of climate action; the climate package is insufficient to reach the 2030 targets, and the climate effects of the individual measures are questionable,” said Thomas Engelke, the group’s head of energy and construction.

Climate change think tank E3G said there has been progress, but only in recent months so it’s too early to assess what this government will achieve. “During the past few months, the climate crisis has finally been moved to the core of politics,” they said in their response. “However, the government has so far missed the opportunity to support its ambitious partners at EU level and regain climate leadership at the international level. With its climate package, the grand coalition government has made the first steps to accelerate action in all sectors with some good results.”

Both Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party and its coalition partner, the center-left Social Democrats, have seen falling poll numbers since they took office. After defeats in last year’s EU elections and recent state elections, some Social Democrats have questioned whether to continue with the current government. The recent success of the German Green Party has been closely watched, and the government is keen to trumpet its recent action on climate change.

But the Greens say this is too little too late. The Social Democrats will decide at a party conference next month whether to pull out of the coalition, forcing a new election. The upbeat messaging on what has been achieved by this government in the area of climate change is likely meant to convince skeptical social democrats to remain in the pact.

Dave Keating is based in Brussels, where he has been covering EU politics and policy for 13 years.