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14 Sep 2020, 13:52
Benjamin Wehrmann

Econ min's “historic” climate consensus ideas met with surprise and suspicion in Germany

Clean Energy Wire

The proposal for a "historic consensus" in German society on the need for climate action and the goal of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 by economy minister Peter Altmaier has been received with surprise and sympathy by representatives of climate-related institutions in the country, even though many also warned the minister not to exploit the topic for short-term political gains.

Altmaier on Friday last week had presented a 20-point-plan to achieve a consensus among all democratic parties and key stakeholders from society that is aimed at firmly setting the economy on a path towards net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. The minister had made a "remarkable statement" that could land him right in the climate policy history books if he now let actions follow, said Ottmar Edenhofer, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "Only with a quick stabilisation of the climate will we have a long-term perspective for prosperity and security," Edenhofer argued. He said Altmaier's most decisive idea has been to tie the CO2 pricing system Germany will introduce next year to EU climate targets, meaning the costs for using fossil fuels in transport and heating could climb faster if emissions reduction is off track. Germany should now advocate a minimum floor price for the European emissions trading system (ETS), the PIK director said.

Andreas Kuhlmann, head of the German Energy Agency (dena), said it is important that the far-reaching consequences of a climate-neutral economy are debated early on. He commended Altmaier's idea to reserve a fixed share of the national budget for climate action and said many companies in the country are ready to shift up a gear in emission reduction. "Many companies, especially small and medium sized ones, have developed smart ideas and climate-friendly solutions in the past years that also fare well on international markets," Kuhlmann said, arguing that the minister should work towards facilitating these companies' success as exporters of expertise and technology.

Environmental organisation WWF Germany said the economy minister "is seeing the writings on the wall" but remained too vague on many crucial questions. With a view to the 20-point-plan, WWF said "it remains unclear how the government intends to implement the decisions it has already made and what it intends to do beyond that." Especially issues that rest within the domain of the economy ministry, such as renewables expansion or industry decarbonisation, are not addressed in greater detail, the organisation argued.

Christoph Bals, head of NGO Germanwatch, said he welcomed "this overdue invitation of the economy minister to an honest dialogue about the climate," adding that he is not certain the proposals were really coordinated with Altmaier's party, the conservative CDU/CSU alliance, and with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, the "interesting" ideas Altmaier announced could provide a basis for greater ambition of the next government after the elections in autumn 2021.

Simone Peter, head of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE), welcomed that Altmaier calls for concrete goals in climate action, but cautioned that the ideas in his plan to not match his record as economy minister of the past three years. "While there already is a draft for the next Renewable Energy Act (EEG) reform, the plan announces yet another comprehensive reform," Peter said, adding that "announcements alone won't help a lot”.  She said all urgent ideas to boost renewables expansion should already be included in the upcoming reform.

Energy industry association BDEW said implementing Altmaier's "charta" for climate would indeed be a "historic" achievement and many ideas are worth considering immediately. "This, for example, is the case for the suggested CO2 auctions," where companies can bid for emitting given amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, said BDEW head Kerstin Andreae. She added that the government "already has the power to make important decisions regarding climate neutrality and reviving the energy transition”.

Environmental Action Germany (DUH) was more critical of Altmaier's proposal, calling it a "red herring" that is aimed at taking some steam out of the Green Party's success among voters concerned about global warming. The minister never went into detail, the NGO said, arguing that Altmaier instead "hopes for volunteers" that support climate policy and does not raise the spectre of sanctions for companies unwilling to comply. "It's almost audacious to call for exact annual emissions reduction goals until 2050. As a long-time government member, mister Altmaier plays a big role in the government's failure to stay within its binding 2030 carbon budget," DUH said.

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