The Reichstag building, seat of the German parliament. Photo: Jürgen Martern / wiki commons
27 Jul 2021, 15:20
Climate and COVID define campaigns as Merkel's era comes to an end

Vote21 - German elections set the scene for key decade of energy transition

In autumn 2021, Germany will head to the ballots to elect a new federal parliament. Since the previous election in 2017, climate and energy have consistently moved up among voter priorities. A string of hot, dry summers that took a toll on the country's environment have contributed to massive climate protests led by the Fridays for Future movement, which put emissions-reduction efforts at the heart of public debate. With the coal power phase-out and its comprehensive Climate Action Programme 2030, the government of parting Chancellor Angela Merkel also implemented major steps seen as crucial for climate neutrality by the middle of the century. At the same time, issues like reviving renewables expansion, transforming the car industry, green hydrogen production and carbon pricing are all energy transition challenges that continue to split opinions along party lines. Against the backdrop of a looming economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Germany is in the midst of an election year packed with six state elections during which climate looms larger than arguably any time before. Clean Energy Wire traces the path to the #BTW21 elections and collects articles, factsheets and interviews in this dossier.

The latest

German Greens call for central office for disaster management after deadly floods

The Green Party has called for the installment of a central office for disaster management in light of recent catastrophic floods that hit Germany. "We can't go on like before," said the party’s co-leader and chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock during a press conference, during which she presented a 10-point paper for better disaster protection. Germany cannot afford the conservative party’s “climate confusion”, she added. “It is a danger for the people in the country, for Germany as an industrial location and for the security of supply.” Baerbock demanded the next government tackles the issue of climate change on three levels: mitigation, adaptation and so-called ‘loss and damages’ in case of extreme weather events. The Greens are set to present an adaptation strategy for climate-related extreme weather events on 29 July as well as an emergency climate protection programme in the week of 2 August.

 Tracking climate and energy in Germany's election

Clean Energy Wire traces the steps leading up to the election and will highlight developments in climate and energy policy by all major parties in this regularly updated news overview. Find in chronological order a list of all news pieces with the #Elections & Politics tag here and follow CLEW's live coverage on Twitter @cleanenergywire.

Facts & dates for Germany's packed election year

Germany will head to the polls in autumn 2021 to elect a new federal parliament and government. More than 60 million people are invited to decide who will follow on the outgoing Angela Merkel as next chancellor and oversee the climate and energy policy of Europe's largest economy for the next four years. Clean Energy Wire has compiled contacts, links and other information to help journalists report on Germany's 2021 federal elections. Find the factsheet here.

Climate & Energy in Party Manifestos

Climate and energy are two of the key issues that dominate Germany's 2021 general election. Clean Energy Wire provides a compact overview of major parties' plans to make the country comply with international climate targets and improve the emissions balance across all sectors of the economy. Find the factsheet here.

graph: english overview of German parties' election programmes 2021. Source: Clean Energy Wire
Overview of German parties' election programmes 2021. Source: Clean Energy Wire.

CDU/CSUThe ruling conservatives presented their programme on 21 June. It remains vague on climate and energy, leaving plenty of leeway for possible government coalition negotiations with competitors like the Green Party. The bloc of chancellor candidate Armin Laschet presented an election programme which signals continuity with policies of outgoing leader Angela Merkel.


Green Party The German Greens opted for a moderate climate policy path at a party conference on 11-13 June and officially anointed party co-leader Annalena Baerbock as chancellor candidate for the September elections. The programme calls for 100 percent renewables in power consumption by 2035, a coal exit as early as 2030 and only emission-free cars by that year.


SPD The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has compiled an election programme that puts great emphasis on climate action as the "challenge of the century." The SPD says it will support controversial climate action measures like a general speed limit on German motorways, an idea that has so far been considered a no-go for most politicians and was mainly propagated by the Green Party. The party does not rule out a coal phase-out before the established target year of 2038. It emphasises that climate protection measures must be socially compatible and should also promote the economy.


FDP Germany's pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) plans to enter the election campaign with a pledge to extend emissions trading as the main tool for fighting climate change. The party wants to extend the EU emissions trading to all sectors and other geographic areas as quickly as possible in order to protect the climate "in a market-based and scientifically secure manner," the party writes.


Left Party The German Left Party (Die Linke) looks set to out-green the Green Party as it enters this year’s federal elections with what looks to be the most ambitious climate protection policies of any party in the Bundestag. In the programme, the Left calls for climate neutrality by 2035 at the latest.


AfD The far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) decided its election manifesto at a party conference on 11 April.

Major stories

Deadly floods sharpen focus on climate change in German election campaign

Catastrophic floods that killed more than 90 people in Germany have been widely linked to climate change, swinging the issue into focus ahead of Germany’s election campaign. Both Conservative chancellor candidate Armin Laschet and Social Democrat rival Olaf Scholz visited regions that were heavily affected by one of the worst natural disasters in the country's post-war history. Like many other politicians, scientists and media reports, parting chancellor Angela Merkel drew a connection to rising temperatures caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.


Chancellor candidates agree Germany must cut red tape to speed up renewables roll-out

The chancellor candidates of the country’s major parties met face to face on 16 June to discuss climate and energy issues at an event organised by energy industry association BDEW. Three months before the vote on 26 September, the debate showed broad agreement on the necessity to speed up the renewables roll-out with more rapid approval procedures, and the need for gas as a bridging technology. But candidates offered different views on whether the gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 should be completed. Read the story here.


Court ruling puts spotlight on climate as German election campaign picks up speed, govt proposes to raise climate targets

A landmark ruling from Germany’s top court catapulted climate to the top of the political debate as government coalition partners shifted into election campaign mode, blamed each other for shortcomings of the country’s Climate Action Law and proposed to raise Germany's climate targets, all within one week.

Read the stories here, here and here.


Conservatives choose Laschet as chancellor candidate, signalling post-Merkel continuity

Germany’s conservatives have chosen Armin Laschet as their leading candidate for the national election in September, signalling continuity with the era of Chancellor Angela Merkel and ending a days-long power struggle with top rival Bavarian state premier Markus Söder. Laschet, who governs Germany's most populous state, the traditional industry and coal mining heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia, is seen as a centrist likely to follow the moderate course of current chancellor Merkel. In the race against his main contender – newly-chosen Green Party candidate Annalena Baerbock – Laschet can point to his government experience. However, he is likely to face criticism for his somewhat ambiguous energy and climate policy record. Read the article here.


Greens name 40-year old Annalena Baerbock as candidate for German chancellor

The German Green Party unveiled Annalena Baerbock as their candidate for chancellor, touted as the party's first ever serious contender to lead the government in Europe's largest economy. In her nomination speech as the only female candidate to succeed Angela Merkel, Baerbock said she wants to make climate action "the yardstick for all sectors" in order to fulfil the Paris Agreement. "Climate action is the task of our time, the task of my generation." The Greens' smooth and professional selection process stood in sharp contrast to the Conservatives' ongoing bitter power struggle over the candidacy to succeed Merkel after the September general elections. Read the article here.


Choice of candidates to kick off German chancellor race (7 April 2021)

Germany’s ruling conservatives and the Greens are about to kick off the 2021 national election race in earnest by naming their respective leading candidates to take over the helm of Europe’s biggest economy in autumn. While the country has firmly set sails for climate neutrality by 2050, the camps’ choices could prove critical for the speed of the energy transition in this decade. Engulfed by a lobbying scandal and accused of mishandling the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU alliance has plummeted in the polls and lost what looked like a guaranteed pole position for the chancellery. It must make the difficult choice between the natural candidate – Armin Laschet, leader of the bigger partner CDU – and much more popular Bavarian CSU head Markus Söder. The Greens – for the first time with a modest but realistic chance to lead a federal government – will select one of their co-leaders Robert Habeck or Annalena Baerbock. The latter is the only female contender in the race. The Social Democrats – who have already nominated finance minister Olaf Scholz – are trailing behind the Green Party in current polls, narrowing their chances of grabbing the government’s top position. [CORRECTION - Baerbock is 40 years old, not 41 as previously stated.] Read the article here.


Lobbying scandal halts German renewables talks, shakes up election outlook (19 March 2021)

Germany's Social Democrats (SPD) have put key talks about the expansion of renewable energies on hold because of lobbying allegations against yet another parliamentarian of chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc. The lobbying scandal engulfing the conservative CDU/CSU alliance has derailed important talks about Germany's plans for rolling out renewables. The affair also dampens the Conservatives' hopes of an unchallenged victory in September's general elections. Read the article here.


German state votes deal blow to CDU's post-Merkel hopes while Greens get boost (15 March 2021)

"Super election year" 2021 in Germany has been kicked off with a resounding defeat of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU in two state elections that saw the party incur historic losses. For the rivalling Green Party and the Social Democrats (SPD), the votes in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate have brought fresh hope that the conservatives' sway might fade away when popular long-time leader Merkel retires after the national elections in September. The Green Party was able to celebrate record win in wealthy state Baden-Württemberg. It also largely fended off competition from a new climate party launched only months earlier that has vowed to sting the Greens into demanding even more ambitious climate policy. Only losing a few percentage points to the 'Climate List' could hamper the Greens' prospects for forming a centre-left coalition that could bring the country its first Green chancellor. Read the article here.


Vote in German carmaker state foreshadows national election amid pandemic uncertainty (9 March 2021)

A regional vote in the south-western German state of Baden-Württemberg on 14 March kicks off a busy election year in Germany. While the regional vote in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate takes place the same day, the focus will be on the ballot in the bigger affluent state known for its strong automotive industry. The vote is likely to come down to a contest for leadership between the Green Party and the conservative CDU. Many climate activists in the only state led by the Green Party see its popularity among more conservative voters as a sign that it has become too timid on climate issues. Just a week ahead of the vote, an affair over MPs using the state's protective mask procurement programme for personal gain that is shaking the conservative CDU/CSU alliance has illustrated the wealth of uncertainties the COVID-19 pandemic still holds for the election year. Read the article here.


New CDU leader brings continuity with Merkel era but comes with stained climate reputation (18 January 2021)

Armin Laschet has been elected the new leader of Germany's largest party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), clearing a major hurdle on what could be his way to becoming next German Chancellor. The premier of Germany's largest federal state, the traditional industry and coal mining heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia, is seen as a loyalist to Angela Merkel and stands for continuity with the parting long-term leader's centrist course. However, Laschet's reputation in climate policy is dominated by his pro-industry positioning in the country's coal exit negotiations and his government's heavy-handed handling of protests against a new lignite mine. Read the article here.


German conservatives pick leader set to shape handling of Merkel's climate legacy (11 January 2021)

Three men compete to take the lead of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Germany's largest party, and to possibly follow in the footsteps of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who leaves office after 16 years in September amid a global health and an intensifying climate crisis. The CDU's vote on 15-16 January kicks off a busy election year at a time when the country has to reconcile its short-term economic needs caused by the pandemic with long-term strategic planning in order to put Germany and Europe on a more sustainable path. Whoever wins the conservatives' leadership contest is unlikely to fundamentally alter Germany's climate and energy policy approach, but the new leadership’s style, tone and coalition options will likely be put to the test during the pre-election contest. And a fourth conservative contender for the Chancellery could also still arise from the CDU's Bavarian sister party CSU. Read the article here.


German Greens vow to speed up low-carbon transition (23 November 2020)

Germany's Greens have backed a more ambitious climate target in a bid to defuse growing tensions with more radical activists. At a virtual convention designed to showcase the party's ability to govern Europe's largest economy less than a year before general elections, delegates agreed to the target of getting "on the path" to limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees. But in an effort not to alienate more mainstream voters, the party refused to include an autobahn speed limit and many other more radical proposals in its new manifesto. Read the article here.


German Greens call on climate activists for unity in election goals (20 November 2020)

Leading members of Germany's Green Party have called on climate activists to cooperate in the country's general elections next year. They warn that more radical climate platforms competing in elections could harm the fight against climate change, as they could drain votes from the party that stands a good chance to become part of the next German federal government. Read the article here.


Germany faces packed election year as voters weigh climate against pandemic recovery (4 September 2020)

The era of Chancellor Angela Merkel will come to an end when Germans head to the polls next autumn after what looks set to become an unusually dramatic run-up to the federal elections. With no clear front-runner for her succession in sight and the coronavirus pandemic adding huge uncertainties, the elections may result in unprecedented government coalitions that might eventually determine the climate ambitions of Europe's largest economy. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to loom large in the election year and could still grow in weight as the economic fallout makes itself felt. However, it seems unlikely to override citizens' increasing commitment to environmentally friendly policies. Read the article here.

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