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25 Feb 2019, 14:17
Kerstine Appunn

Germany's government coalition divided over draft Climate Action Law

Sparks fly over the German environment ministry's proposal for a Climate Action Law but the minister says there's no plan B. Photo: Pixabay.
Sparks fly over the German environment ministry's proposal for a Climate Action Law but the minister says there's no plan B. Photo: Pixabay.

The first draft of Germany’s Climate Action Law, presented last week, has laid bare conflicting views within the German coalition government over how the country should meet its climate targets. The proposal has drawn criticism from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, the economically liberal FDP and industry association BDI, but has been welcomed by the Social Democrats (SPD) – the party of Environment Minister Svenja Schulze who is responsible for the bill – as well as by renewables industry.

[Correction in last paragraph: The planned coalition review by the SPD is likely to take place in autumn 2019 - not 2018 as we previously wrote].

Last week’s draft text of Germany’s much-anticipated Climate Action Law coalition – which is to ensure the country becomes CO2 neutral by mid-century – has been welcomed by center left parliamentarians and the renewables lobby, but drawn fire from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance and from German industry.

The draft, drawn up by Svenja Schulze’s (SPD) environment ministry, sets out emissions budgets for different economic sectors. To reach these targets, government ministries are then responsible for setting out concrete measures that will trigger amendments to existing legislation. If sectors miss their annual reduction target, meaning Germany has to buy emissions allocations from other countries, the responsible ministry will have to cover these costs.

The framework law commits Germany to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 95 percent by 2050. In its Climate Action Plan 2050, introduced in 2016, the government had set out to reduce emissions by 80 to 95 percent. A spokesperson for Merkel commented on Friday that “even 80 percent is very ambitious.”

Ralph Brinkhaus, head of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, insisted that the group supported the idea of a Climate Action Law, but criticised that the current draft would establish a “central committee for climate control” with powers that should be in the hands of parliament and ministries. The law draft stipulates that “an independent seven-person expert body for climate issues will be set up by the federal parliament, made up of experts in environment, sustainable development, consumer issues and economic development, among others”.

Brinkhaus also criticised that the law lacked specific climate action measures, instead leaving it up to the ministries to devise ways of cutting emissions from their respective sectors.

"Expensive and inefficient"

Holger Lösch, deputy managing director of BDI had similar complaints. “The environment minister’s draft law merely provides rigid targets for the reduction of CO2 instead of answers as to how we can protect the climate at a politically, economically and socially acceptable cost,” Lösch said.

Minister Schulze had always intended the Climate Action Law to be a framework law that sets the targets and guidelines for the other ministries to fulfil their greenhouse gas reduction obligations as they see fit. She wasn’t heading some kind of “super ministry” in charge of the others, she said on Friday.

The business-friendly Free Democrats’ Lukas Köhler said that by setting emission targets for each individual economic sector “climate protection in Germany threatens to become extremely expensive and inefficient”.

Wind energy association BWE, however, said it was “logical and necessary” to translate abstract climate targets into specific budgets for each sector. “The clear allocation gives a reliable framework and at the same time ensures a broad scope for fulfilling the targets,” BWE president Hermann Albers said in a press release.

Schulze’s fellow Social Democrats backed her draft. “Instead of going into a mode of fundamental opposition, some colleagues from the CDU/CSU should rather to help to find a good common solution. That’s the only way to help the climate,” said Andrea Nahles, head of the SPD's parliamentary group.

Finance minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) said that now that the environment minister has delivered on the coalition treaty by drawing up the law, he expect the other ministries to provide their climate action measures according to plan.

Minister Schulze said she didn’t have a plan B if the law wasn’t supported by the rest of the government. “Plan A is to implement the coalition treaty,” she said, while other SPD members have hinted that, come autumn, the issue could be a make-or-break topic for the entire government coalition, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.

Due to heavy resistance from within its own party membership to joining a coalition with the conservative CDU/CSU alliance after Germany's last general elections in 2017, the SPD leadership promised to hold a "midterm review" and decide whether or not to continue with the coalition. No official date has yet been set for the review yet, but it is likely to be held two years after the election, in autumn 2019.

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