10 Jan 2023, 13:50
Benjamin Wehrmann

First mobility summit under chancellor Scholz remains contentious despite inviting car industry critics

Clean Energy Wire / Die Welt

At Germany’s first mobility summit under Olaf Scholz on 10 January, the German chancellor aims to renew efforts to tackle the country’s lagging emissions reduction in the transport sector. Scholz will meet both with representatives of the country’s influential automotive industry and with critics of the industry’s climate-damaging practices from civil society. However, NGOs not present at the summit have said the forum falls short of addressing structural problems in the sector.

The meeting at the German chancellery brings together the “strategy platform for a transformation in the automotive and mobility industry,” a body founded under Scholz’s coalition government in 2022 that is supposed to put the transition in the transport sector on a new footing, newspaper Die Welt reported. Besides the heads of carmakers Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and others, participants include think tank Agora Verkehrswende, the Evangelical Church and an NGO-alliance “for a socially acceptable mobility transition,” consisting of environmental groups like Nabu or BUND, the newspaper reported. “Representatives of the U.S. company Tesla are not included,” the newspaper said, adding that this was “somewhat puzzling,” given the company’s quickly rising production capacity at its new factory near Berlin. Other notable absentees from the list included automotive industry suppliers, the cycling lobby and pro-railroad organisations, Die Welt said. Differing opinions within the government coalition of Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD), the Green Party with economy and climate minister Robert Habeck and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) of transport minister Volker Wissing, make a breakthrough at the summit unlikely, it added.

Energy industry association BDEW said the meeting should lay the groundwork for a strategy that puts up to 15 million electric cars on German roads by 2030, as consumers stood ready to make Germany the technology’s ‘lead market’ in Europe. NGO LobbyControl voiced criticisms that the summit still afforded the car industry “privileged access to policymakers” and continued to be tilted towards business interests rather than environmental concerns. While the invitation of civil society representatives marked some progress in this respect, “the forum remains lopsided with respect to participants and the topics discussed,” LobbyControl’s Christina Deckwirth said.  Transport NGO VCD criticised the summit for ‘fraudulent labelling’ by using the word ‘mobility’ while focusing heavily on the car industry as a partner rather than other forms of mobility. “The future of mobility is connected and multi-modal. Its backbone consists of public transport with more busses, trains, sharing offers as well as walking and cycling,” VCD head Kerstin Haarmann commented.

The transport sector’s shortcomings in emissions reduction have been heavily criticized by a government advisory group last year, while the country’s car industry grapples with the double challenge of a regulatory transition away from combustion engines and the difficult business environment caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine and the energy crisis. Carmakers insist that the government has to massively support the roll-out of charging infrastructure to accelerate the transition towards electric vehicles.

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