Germany has always acted as pioneer and model pupil in climate policy. This role is now coming to an end. Minister of the Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, has denounced climate unilateralism.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Minister of the Chancellery Peter Altmaier; photo: Federal Government of Germany/Kugler
“I am not the most weighty, but the most heavy minister in the Cabinet,” the Minister of the Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, said last Friday at an event in the Hotel Adlon: “I have lost weight, but the gap with others was so great that my leadership was not at risk.”
As usual, Altmaier’s ironic treatment of his diet ensured cheerfulness among his listeners. Soon afterwards, however, the relaxed atmosphere in the Berlin Grand Hall turned into excitement.
For the federal Minister for Special Responsibilities promised the assembled business leaders and managers to fulfill a long-cherished wish: Germany’s expensive go-it-alone climatic policies could soon be over for good.
“I am firmly convinced that the path of national climate targets is wrong,” Altmaier told the participants of the exclusive “Convention on Energy and Climate Policy” organised by the economic council of the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU). Although it is “difficult to cancel existing goals,” Altmaier said, in future “European and international targets” would be required.
Altmaier’s words sparked the first thunderous applause of the day — for a good reason: The Federal Government had always played the role of model pupil and “pioneer” in climate policy. For example, when the EU decided to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020, Germany decided to reduce its emissions by 40 percent. When Europe set itself a green energy target of 20 percent, Berlin had to surpass immediately with a national 35 percent target.
Expensive go-it-alone policies of this kind were not only received badly by German industry given that increasing energy prices and green regulations threaten its competitiveness. Environmental economists also criticised again and again that national unilateralism would not save any extra CO2 under the umbrella of the EU’s emissions trading scheme.
Even before the UN Climate Conference in Paris at the end of 2015, Germany’s unilateral ambitions had led to controversial discussions. The federal government had argued that it wanted to encourage other nations to follow its lead by adopting equally ambitious CO2 targets. Critics argued that Germany undermined a coherent EU position at the UN Climate Summit, preventing the EU from speaking “with one voice.”
At the meeting of the CDU Economic Council in Berlin, Altmaier — just as EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete had done before – aregued for a “level playing field” in Europe, i.e. cross-country rules for investments in energy efficiency and climate targets.
Bursting with anger, Alexander Cerbe, the chairman of Cologne’s utilities company Rheinenergie retorted: If the same investment conditions were so important for EU climate policy, why did Germany always go much further than the rest, Cerbe wanted to know. “You are quite right,” the federal minister replied to everyone’s surprise: He too considered unilateral goals as “the wrong approach.”
Altmaier’s position concurs with the new energy policy “Energy lab 2030”, developed by the CDU’s Economic Council over several months with the assistance of numerous expert committees and presented at their Congress on Friday. “Unilateral national targets for climate protection are counterproductive and should therefore be abandoned,” it says.
Objectives are over-ambitious
The fact that the federal government now seems intend to pursue only targets that are uniform throughout the EU may be due to the gradual realisation that Germany has adopted over-ambitious targets that cannot be achieved.
In its “Energy Concept 2010”, the federal government had decided to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent by 2020, twice as much as the rest of Europe. The phasing out of non-CO2-emitting nuclear power plants did not seem to contradict these ambitions.
However, the climate target now proves to be over-ambitious. Among experts, it is certain that the federal government will clearly miss the promise of a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by the end of the decade.