14 Nov 2016 | Benjamin Wehrmann

German Greens to make coal exit, fossil car ban an election focus

Banning combustion engines in new cars by 2030 and exiting coal-fired power production as early as 2025 are likely to be two key Green Party demands in the general elections in autumn 2017, the party decided at its convention. But controversy over inviting Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche to speak at the convention revealed deep policy disagreements within the party.

Although the party won’t adopt a final programme before summer, the convention’s results will serve as guidelines for the party’s position in the federal elections, as well as prior elections in the three states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and Saarland.

With general elections less than a year ahead, the Green Party convention was a prelude to the party’s electoral campaign.

Making decarbonised mobility a fully-fledged component of the Energiewende will be a central goal the Greens want to pursue.

The energy transition could only succeed with a “fundamental change of transportation policy,” a draft for the party’s electoral programme said. “We want to eliminate the segregation of the energy, heating and transportation sector to make green power usable everywhere,” and also to steer away from an “inefficient dominance of motorised mass transport based on individual vehicles,” it added.

To reduce the dominance of individual transport by car, the party proposed initiatives like the introduction of a “Green mobility card” for nationwide use in public transportation, funded with one billion euros, and a ban on new conventional cars in 2030.

No other party’s identity in German politics is as closely linked to Germany’s transition to renewable energies and the exit from nuclear power, dubbed the Energiewende. Although the Greens’ only participation in a federal government as junior coalition partner ended in 2005, the party’s agenda that included brokering a nuclear phase-out and introducing a Renewable Energy Act continues to shape the country today.

Soon likely to be part of government coalitions in 11 out of 16 state governments, the Greens already wield substantial clout over German politics. However, they currently are the smallest parliamentary group in the Bundestag, after falling back from their first-ever double-digit percentage win in national elections in 2009, to 8.4 percent in the 2013 election – a trend the party needs to reverse to press ahead with its agenda. In Germany, parties must exceed a five percent hurdle to be represented in the Bundestag.

The Greens’ co-leader Cem Özdemir, representing a pragmatic and industry-friendly wing of the party, insisted that banning combustion engines was all but beneficial for German carmakers: “All we do is give an industry a fair and projectable deadline to adjust its business model to the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement,” he said.

A deadline would be needed to save the automotive industry from the potentially fatal strategic mistake of becoming an international laggard in e-mobility, Özdemir argued. It could prevent the hometowns of VW, Porsche and Audi “from becoming a German Detroit,” he said, adding that neither German prosperity nor technological leadership were “carved in stone.”

Controversy over Daimler CEO Zetsche

Inviting Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche to speak at the Greens’ convention was seen as a conciliatory gesture by the party’s executive committee, demonstrating readiness to co-operate with the industry from the party that started out as a distinctly non-conformist political movement in the early 1980s.

Although the Greens have come a long way from their frugal origins to having the voters with the highest average income of any party in the Bundestag, many in the party’s rank and file still disapproved of the industry heavyweight’s invitation. “Mr. Zetsche does not represent the kind of policies we as Greens stand for,” delegates said in a proposition to disinvite the CEO as a speaker at the convention.

Ultimately, delegates voted to allow Mr. Zetsche to speak, showing that a pragmatic course seemed compelling for most political camps in the party. “I never imagined I would be advocating for the interests of the car industry,” said the leftist chairman of the Greens’ parliamentary group, Anton Hofreiter. “But I think that jobs there will only be secure if they meet the challenges of our time – and one of these challenges is not to ruin the climate,” he told Clean Energy  Wire.

Renewables versus coal

Apart from initiating a comprehensive transportation transition, Hofreiter said he regarded other measurers for the implementation of the Paris Agreement as essential for the election year. “The question will be about renewables versus coal,” he explained. While the government’s Climate Action Plan 2050 makes no mention of a definite coal exit in the foreseeable future, the Greens insisted that “coal has no future” even in the short term.

“Everything else would be window dressing, and would trick people and regions  affected by a coal exit into believing something else,” the party’s executive committee stated and proposed a coal exit no later than 2035. Delegates deemed this deadline too hesitant for meeting emission targets, and voted to pull out of coal as early as 2025.

The Greens also are determined to push forward and amend Energiewende policies in other areas, for instance by lifting the ceilings on the expansion of solar and wind power stipulated in the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) and aiming for 100 percent green power by 2030. The government currently plans to increase renewables’ share in power consumption to 50 percent in 2030.

Moreover, the party calls for exempting local citizen projects from complicated requirements for participating in renewable energy auctions, as stipulated in the reform of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG). Households and businesses needed to “be able to produce and sell green energy and heating” unbureaucratically, the party’s resolution stated.

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