20 Sep 2019, 10:12
Freja Eriksen Benjamin Wehrmann Julian Wettengel

Countdown to Germany's crucial climate cabinet meeting

Fridays for Future student climate protest in Dortmund in August 2019. Photo: CLEW/Mohn.
Fridays for Future student climate protest in Dortmund in August 2019. Photo: CLEW/Mohn.

Today, the grand coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU alliance and the Social Democrats (SPD) aim to agree on a major policy package to bring Germany back on track to reaching the international climate goals. Germany's highly anticipated future climate strategy remained uncertain on Friday morning as government coalition talks that lasted throughout the night were still ongoing. The partners have promised key decisions for a meeting on 20 September, coinciding with the planned global climate strike, and in time for UN Secretary-General António Guterres' Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September. Clean Energy Wire regularly updates this countdown to Germany's crucial climate cabinet decisions. [Note: This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 300 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.]

Clean Energy Wire's Dossier Climate cabinet to put Germany back on track for 2030 targets provides an overview of the run-up to the 20 September meeting and beyond. For the latest, you can sign up to our Daily e-mail newsletter, or use the search function on our website to search for hashtags such as #Climate&CO₂ or the search phrase climate cabinet.


20 September

German coalition climate talks enter overtime

Germany's highly anticipated future climate strategy remained uncertain on Friday morning as government coalition talks that lasted throughout the night were still ongoing. Negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and the Social Democrats over a major action package to bring the country back on track for 2030 climate targets went into overtime, with CO₂ pricing for transport and buildings still a major sticking point, according to media reports. Fridays for Future climate protesters were gearing up for major demonstrations in Berlin and across the country, as the global "climate strike" got underway in Australia.


Background: German climate policy faces pivotal moment on 20 September

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government coalition is racing to put together a major climate action package by 20 September, just in time for UN Secretary-General António Guterres' climate summit in New York on 23 September. Only a few days are left for the shaky grand coalition of conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) to mould a myriad of party and ministry proposals on how Germany could reach the 2030 climate targets into a joint strategy that can be agreed upon in next week's climate cabinet meeting.

After a prolonged boom in renewable energy, Germany's planned transition to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy – the famed Energiewende – has slowed in recent years. Emissions remain too high to reach the climate targets, renewables expansion has slowed, and initiating changes in sectors such as transport has proven to be extremely difficult. Chancellor Merkel has therefore set up the so-called climate cabinet – a group of ministers with responsibilities in key climate policy fields – to decide necessary legislation to reach the 2030 climate targets, as promised in the 2018 grand coalition government treaty.

As large parts of the German public call for more ambition, politicians have upped their rhetoric. Against the backdrop of a global climate strike, including protests announced in more than 400 German cities, 20 September will show whether Merkel' government can walk the talk on climate.


19 September

German government faces 11th hour talks over climate action

Germany's governing parties are heading into the final talks over what finance minister Olaf Scholz has said must be a "big and convincing step for climate action." But CO₂ pricing and a proposed major framework climate law remain sticking points, a draft "Climate Action Programme 2030" suggests. Meanwhile, doubts among analysts and commentators grow about whether Chancellor Angela Merkel's government will succeed in ending what has so far been its "piecemeal approach" to the climate challenge. Coinciding with the "Global Climate Strike," the country's climate cabinet is set to agree on the package on Friday.


Germany must deliver "technologically convincing" climate action – finance minister Scholz

Germany's response to climate change "must be so attractive and technologically convincing that other countries want to emulate us," writes finance minister and vice chancellor Olaf Scholz in an opinion in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Scholz called power grid expansion "the most important task" for the country, which according to him also needs "a decade of railway development" to make Germans use more trains than cars, an expansion of charging stations for electric cars, energy efficient modernisation of buildings and investment in hydrogen research.


Fridays for Future calls on German climate cabinet to deliver carbon-neutrality by 2035

The student climate protest movement Fridays for Future says Germany must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2035, and has called on the government's climate cabinet to take the necessary steps. At a press conference two days before the decisive cabinet meeting coinciding with the international "climate strike" demonstrations on 20 September, the movement also said that Germany must exit coal by 2030 instead of 2038 as currently envisaged, and source all its electricity from renewables by 2035.

At the press conference attended by most of the country's major broadcast and print media, Fridays for Future representative Pauline Brünger said "the climate cabinet must take responsibility, and instead of presenting a patchwork of ineffective individual measures, present a concept that focuses on the major sources of CO2." Fridays for Future also demanded that the government end fossil fuel subsidies, switch off a quarter of the country’s coal power plants, and tax emissions by the end of this year. Climate economist Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), said at the press conference that CO2 emissions should cost 130 euros per tonne initially, and eventually 180 euros per tonne. "Otherwise we have no chance" to achieve the necessary impact, he added.


Energy and climate policy decisions "overdue" - BDI

Decisions on German energy and climate policy are "overdue," says Dieter Kempf, president of the influential industry association BDI. The Federation of German Industries calls for incentives for investments in climate friendly innovation instead of technology bans. "Political mismanagement remains the greatest implementation risk for climate action," says Kempf.


Germany's farmers say bioenergy must play role in climate package 

Germany's Farmer's Association (DBV) called for "stabilising and expanding" the role of bioenergy in climate policy. The association identified three measures to better include bioenergy in energy policy, namely increasing auctioned volumes after 2022, introducing carbon pricing in the heating sector and a higher emissions reduction quota in the transport sector. Sandra Rostek, head of the bioenergy industry's Berlin office, said these three measures are "decisive for the industry to have an economic perspective."


Environmental NGOs say government should be ambitious to stay credible

Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) said the climate cabinet decision on 20 September would be a test for the government. "Without measures that ensure achieving the 2030 climate target, the cabinet doesn't even have to show up in front of a camera," said BUND head Hubert Weiger. "The climate is at a tipping point. Large parts of society won't accept any longer that climate targets are missed and the future of every one of us is put at risk," Weiger said. BUND called for a rapid expansion of wind and solar power capacity and a parallel shutdown of coal plants, starting in 2020. Weiger added that measures in the transport sector should be decided against transport minister Andreas Scheuer if necessary and said favouring a carbon trading system for transport and buildings over a carbon tax would amount to "postponing climate action again."

Jan Kowalzig, climate policy consultant at NGO Oxfam, said the conclusions of the climate cabinet would decide whether the German government is able to show up at the UN climate summit "with its head high or down low." Kowalzig warned against introducing a series of separate and detailed measures and instead called for a comprehensive climate action law with emissions reduction goals for all sectors and "effective" carbon pricing. "The aim has to be to make Germany climate-neutral well before 2050."

NGO Germanwatch said a CO2 price in the transport and heating sectors could not bear the brunt in emissions reduction and warned against using the price as a "fig leaf" to slack off on other aspects. "If you pretend that a CO2 price could close a large part in the climate action gap in transport and heating, this renders the whole climate package non-credible," said Germanwatch head Christoph Bals. He said the government should include the price in a broader set of measures that also spell out rigorous end dates for polluting technologies, such as oil heating or combustion engines.

Environmental Action Germany (DUH) criticised that the idea of a circular economy has so far been lacking in the government's climate policy plans, arguing that binding targets for avoiding and recycling waste could save millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions every year without creating any additional costs. "The circular economy and climate action belong together," said DUH's Barbara Metz.


18 September

Energy efficiency sector has low hopes for German climate cabinet outcome – survey

Germany’s energy and energy efficiency companies doubt that sufficient measures will be presented at the government's climate cabinet meeting on September 20, shows a sector survey conducted by the German Industry Initiative for Energy Efficiency (DENEFF) and PwC.


Environmental organisations criticise transport ministry’s climate action proposals

In an open letter addressed to Chancellor Angela Merkel, several environmental organisations, including Germanwatch, NABU, BUND and WWF, write that the climate action measures proposed by transport minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) are "insufficient, based on questionable assumptions and excessively burden the federal budget." The package is not suitable to reach the transport sector greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030, "even under optimal conditions."

In a separate survey conducted by pollster Civey for WWF Germany, respondents say Scheuer is the climate cabinet member who blocks climate action the most. More than half (56%) say that environment minister Svenja Schulze is the person pushing the hardest to protect the climate, followed by Chancellor Merkel (18%).


Merkel has one last chance to help the climate – Bloomberg opinion

Chancellor Angela Merkel will not get a better opportunity to help the climate than by introducing an effective CO₂ price with the planned comprehensive climate action package on 20 September, writes Bloomberg in an editorial. "By far the best policy option would be a carbon tax, which would put a simple and transparent price on the dirty gases emitted by cars, homes and factories. […] Unfortunately, the prospects for such a plan are dim."


German gov’t set to "botch" climate action – opinion

Judging by the proposals on the table for the crucial climate cabinet meeting on 20 September, it looks like the German government coalition will once again "botch" climate action, just like with the 2014 Climate Action Programme, writes Bernhard Pötter in an opinion piece in the tageszeitung (taz). In the current proposals, "no eco-sin will be forbidden, any somewhat meaningful action is subsidised, […] for the urgently needed investments there will be no official debt, but a shadow budget," writes Pötter.


We need one million charging points – Bavaria state premier Söder

The climate action package the federal government plans to present on 20 September should include a national strategy for hydrogen technology and synthetic fuels, as well as a push for e-mobility, Bavarian state premier and CSU head Markus Söder told the Handelsblatt in an interview. "For this, we need one million new charging stations," said Söder.


17 September

Merkel expects "very powerful protests" on 20 September

German chancellor Angela Merkel said "we will see very powerful protests" on 20 September – the day of the Global Climate Strike, which coincides with a crucial meeting of her climate cabinet. In a laudatory speech for Germany's former environment minister Klaus Töpfer in Bonn, Merkel added: "One has to be sad to say - and I say this quite frankly - that it was only the youth that jolted us back into action. That's good. That is not only the right of young people, but it does us all good."

Merkel also said she sees regulatory law as necessary to deal with environmental issues. "Today, some say we must not use regulatory law. I, however, believe that we will not succeed without regulatory law," Merkel said. The exit from CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), or the worldwide ban of ivory trade are examples of where "regulatory legislative measures have led to something good," she said.


Work will only just begin on 20 September – SPD deputy parl’t head

Expectations are high for the crucial climate cabinet meeting on 20 September, but the day will not end Germany's debate about how to reach its climate targets, said Matthias Miersch, deputy head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary group in the Bundestag. "I warn against saying that the climate is saved or lost after 20 September. The work will only just begin," Miersch told journalists in Berlin. Legislation would then have to be worked out and debated and decided by parliament.

"The coal exit law, the climate action legislation, the reforms concerning renewables expansion – these must be decided by the Bundestag by the end of 2019," said Miersch, who is not part of the party leadership meeting on 19 September or the climate cabinet session the following day.

The Social Democrat sees renewables expansion as the most difficult matter of contention in the current grand coalition talks. "I make no secret of the fact that we're still in discussion on many points in this regard, such as minimum distance rules for wind turbines or the cap for solar PV expansion." Miersch criticised the conservatives’ proposal to introduce a national carbon emissions trading system for the transport and buildings sectors.


Climate action law must close German "ambition gap" – SRU

A German climate action law should contribute to closing both Germany's implementation gap and "a gap in climate ambition," recommends the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) in an open letter days before the government's climate cabinet meets to make key climate action decisions. The expert advisory panel to the government focusing on environmental protection stresses that Germany's climate targets do not make a sufficient contribution to meeting the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Particularly the transport, buildings and agriculture sectors call for more effective measures, says the SRU. The panel recommends that a climate action law strengthen climate policy institutionally through scientific progress reviews and the implementation of additional measures if shortfalls are identified. The country's climate targets should be gradually adapted to "the level of ambition scientifically necessary for the Paris Climate Agreement," reads the letter.


16 September

Merkel's CDU presents climate concept, calls for CO₂ emissions trade for transport and buildings

Mere days ahead of the decisive meeting of Germany's climate cabinet, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has finally presented its very own climate concept, calling for a national CO₂ emissions trade for transport and buildings, with an upper and lower price limit.

Key aspects in the 34-page paper entitled "Climate-efficient Germany – with innovation into the future" are identical with a reported draft joint climate concept with sister party CSU leaked last week. This includes the CO₂ pricing system, the step-by-step reduction of the renewables levy (EEG surcharge), and tax rebates for citizens even for small-scale investments in climate-friendly appliances. The climate concept made headlines with the call for doubling the tax on short-haul flights.

The CDU says it supports European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen's initiative of EU climate neutrality by 2050, without explicitly accepting that target also for Germany. Nationally, the CDU only says the 2020 and 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets are "decisive milestones for the goal of greenhouse gas neutrality by mid-century."

Environmental NGO Greenpeace criticised the concept as a "bundle of hardly effective measures, instead of the announced major coup." With it, the CDU would not reach its own climate targets, nor consequently implement the Paris Agreement, said Greenpeace's Andree Böhling.


Energiewende needs new economic framework – dena and EWI

Germany will have to make "even faster progress" than previously expected in order to catch up with its 2030 climate targets, shows a review of the German Energy Agency's (dena) indicator study of the energy transition, factoring in new developments until 2018. In the run-up to the German government's decisive climate cabinet meeting on 20 September, dena and the Institute of Energy Economics (EWI) at the University of Cologne call for a new economic framework for the energy transition, first and foremost in the form of CO2 pricing and a comprehensive reform of taxes and levies. Most importantly, politicians must "define a framework in which climate-friendly technologies and business models have better chances than climate-damaging ones. This will break open old structures and create a new dynamic for energy transition and climate action," commented dena head  Andreas Kuhlmann.

Dena and EWI's paper recommends that Germany bases its energy transition on three pillars, each strengthening the other: energy efficiency; direct use of renewables; and renewable fuels, most of which will need to be imported. At the same time, the government should create climate-friendly, attractive alternatives and incentives for citizens and businesses. Germany must also learn how to deal with residual greenhouse gas emissions, whether binding carbon through e.g. afforestation or capture and storage, reads the paper.

Dena and EWI note that final energy consumption has risen in the German industrial, transport and buildings sectors since 2015. In the energy sector, the share of coal-fired power generation has indeed fallen, but in the expansion of renewable energies "there are signs of a significant decline, especially in wind energy," says Max Gierkink, manager at EWI. Hence, Germany has "a lot to do in all sectors," concludes the paper.


German businesses support more climate action, criticise power prices

Nine out of 10 businesses are in favour of additional climate action measures in Germany, shows a survey conducted among the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry's (DIHK) 2,600 member companies. 53 percent support additional climate action measures even if it is a burden to their company. At the same time, disappointment with the German energy transition has, however, increased strongly, the DIHK's energy transition barometer shows. Only about 15 percent of industrial companies still regard the transition as positive for their own business, writes DIHK. Above all, companies see rising electricity prices and sluggish network expansion as evidence that the energy transition is not progressing. “The opportunity to build more trust among companies with sustainable decisions has been damaged by poor developments in the energy transition,” said DIHK president Eric Schweitzer, who added that the trend was seen in all sectors and regions.


Germany needs major change in climate strategy – media comments

The ideas the German government's climate cabinet members and government parties have put on the table so far "will hardly be sufficient" to meet the country's climate targets, while they seem to serve a clientele rather than the climate, Michael Bauchmüller writes in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Bauchmüller lambasts the government’s climate action rhetoric, arguing that its “efforts could end in one of the biggest cases of voter fraud the country has experienced so far.” He adds that “instead of boldly displacing fossil energy, the federal government is preparing to distribute benefits.”
In the Rheinische Post, Eva Quadbeck argues that Germany needs a major change in its climate strategy, in the best case one that would have an international impact. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition must meet two major criteria: Climate policy must not fall back into its old pattern that resulted in negligible superficial measures. At the same time, it must not overstrain citizens and businesses. “The scandal-ridden auto industry has chalked up a lot of misconduct. The climate transition will, however, not succeed without it, only with it,” she writes.
In a similar vein, Heike Göbel argues in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that whatever actions Merkel’s cabinet decides on, it needs to maintain confidence in the country’s market economy. Whether it bets on emissions trading, a move supported by the conservatives and the likelier choice, or introduces a CO2 tax, as originally called for by the Social Democrats (SPD), the coalition government has to work with the private sector and “give companies time to react to price signals through new technologies and processes. Only then will climate protection be cheaper,” Göbel adds, noting that customers will also need time to adapt.


15 September

Thousands of climate protesters target Frankfurt auto show

Tens of thousands of protesters descended on the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt on Saturday demanding more ambitious climate action and an overhaul of transport policy, Deutsche Welle reports. Demonstrators called for an end to the combustion engine and a comprehensive overhaul of transport policy that prioritises zero and low-emission modes of transport, such as walking, bicycles, buses and trains. The estimated number of demonstrators ranged between 18,000 and 25,000, with more than 10,000 on bicycles. Protesters accused the car industry of not moving fast enough towards emission-free transport and called for more to be done to stop sales of sport utility vehicles (SUVs), which are considered especially harmful to the environment. Demonstrators displayed banners calling for a “Verkehrswende," or "transport transition,” in reference to Germany's planned “Energiewende," or transition to renewable sources of energy.
On Sunday, several hundred demonstrators blocked two entrances to the IAA, barring visitors from accessing the fair, according to a Reuters report carried by Der Taggespiegel, which cited climate activist group Sand im Getriebe (Sand in the Gears). An IAA spokesman confirmed the protesters’ actions but added that it was “all peaceful,” and that the streams of visitors were diverted.

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