Stefan Birkner, former state climate and environment minister in Lower Saxony and member of the Free Democrats’ (FDP) energy and climate team in the ongoing exploratory talks. Source - FDP Lower Saxony.
27 Oct 2017 | Julian Wettengel

Coalition talks on climate goals, energy policy "heated" - negotiator

As expected, Germany’s future energy and climate policy has emerged as the main stumbling block in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s effort to form a government coalition of her conservatives, the Free Democrats, and the Green Party. Talks got stuck over the question whether Germany “must” reach its national climate targets, or whether it should merely “try” to do so. The Clean Energy Wire talked to Stefan Birkner, former climate and environment minister in the state of Lower Saxony and a member of the Free Democrats’ (FDP) team in the ongoing exploratory talks.

Clean Energy Wire: Did the exploratory talks on energy and climate, held on 26 October, lead to an agreement?

Stefan Birkner: No, there’s no agreement. We spelled out our respective positions, but did not reach an agreement. What you have to take into consideration is that these are only exploratory talks. For now, we only sound out if we could find common ground. The solutions to the specific details will have to be found during the actual negotiations. So you cannot expect detailed solutions at the moment.

CLEW: Media reports described the debate on climate and energy as „heated”. What was your personal impression?

SB: What you quoted was an accurate description. It was a heated discussion indeed.

CLEW: What were the main issues on 26 October?

SB: “What are the climate targets?” was one of the central questions. For us, it has always been clear – and it continues to be the standard for the Free Democrats – that we take the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement as a criterion. Those are the targets we have to reach. We’re happy that at least on this the Greens are on board, and that we have a shared understanding.

CLEW: You talked about the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement. Does the FDP want to stick by the national and EU targets as well?

SB: It depends on which targets you’re looking at. The European targets are indisputable, as they are connected to Paris. The European Commission has said that it thinks the EU targets are sufficient to reach the Paris goals. So we say that the EU targets are the standard. Regarding the national targets, it’s agreed that they are considered a guideline.

CLEW: “Guideline” in this case refers to the conflict between we “must” reach the targets, or we “try to do so” - correct?

SB: We do not consider the national targets absolute. There was a consensus on 26 October – and we welcome the Greens’ move on this, that’s commendable – that reaching the climate target requires looking at supply security, affordability, and environmental compatibility. These three requirements must all be taken into consideration. They were accepted as having equal rank, and this I would call progress.

CLEW: And what about the short term 2020 climate target? Experts say that it can only be reached by shutting down a lot of coal-fired power plants, and fast.

SB: The question is “How big the coal gap is”. We still need to debate this, and to take a closer look at the numbers.

CLEW: When you say that you don’t consider the national climate targets absolute, do you mean that the 2020 climate targets do not necessarily have to be reached?

SB: The common understanding is that we want to reach those targets. We do not want to relativise them and say that we don’t really take these targets seriously. We do take them seriously. But we have to take into consideration the requirements of affordability, environmental compatibility, and supply security. We want to reach the climate targets, but we must also make sure that we meet these requirements. So we face the task of finding the right instruments to do all this.

CLEW: FDP General Secretary Nicola Beer said on 26 October that “within these targets, we need to restructure the Energiewende”. Could you elaborate?

SB: We want the energy transition to be aligned with market economy principles. To reach the climate targets, we especially want to expand the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) and make it more effective. We want to include other sectors as well. The ETS is an instrument that ensures the lowest price, because the most efficient solution succeeds. Reforming the ETS will certainly be a difficult and time-consuming task. If we talk about the reform of renewable energy law, we want a development towards renewables production in line with the prevailing market conditions. Our basic demand is the abolition of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG), and the idea behind this is that renewables can and must be placed in the market, and they do not need to be subsidised.

CLEW: What’s the way forward? Do we have to expect several more of such exploratory meetings on climate and energy, or will there be an agreement after the next meeting?

SB: I can’t tell, to be honest. It will depend on several things, such as the general atmosphere. It has to be the shared goal to find an agreement in the next round, and at least draft a common working programme for the potential coalition negotiations. From a policy point of view I think it’s feasible, but I certainly cannot predict the outcome of our next meeting.

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