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21 Jan 2022, 18:40
Julian Wettengel

Global coordination of climate policy top priority in German G7 presidency

Logo of the German G7 presidency. Source: German Government.
Image: German Government.

The German government wants to use this year’s presidency of the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialised nations and democracies to improve the coordination of global efforts to combat climate change. “We want to achieve that no country goes it alone,” said chancellor Olaf Scholz when he presented his government priorities in Berlin. Germany is set to push for the establishment of an international climate club of countries with ambitious policy. Cooperation with emerging and developing countries especially on infrastructure will also be a key goal, making the G7 leaders’ summit on 26-28 June in Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps an important stepping stone to gather momentum ahead of the UN climate change conference COP27 later in the year.

Climate, environment and biodiversity, an accelerated global energy transition, and a sustainable and fair economic system top the German government's priorities for its G7 presidency. Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his cabinet met in Berlin to adopt and present the country’s programme for the coming months.

“We want to achieve that no country goes it alone,” the Social Democrat Scholz told journalists, “but that they join together to form a climate club in which we make progress in different ways but together, so that we manage to become climate neutral in the world by the middle of the century.”

Under the motto “Progress for a Just World”, the programme lays out five priority areas for 2022:  sustainable planet; economic stability and transformation; healthy lives; investments in a better future; and strong cohesion. “As leading industrial nations and partners with shared values, the G7 countries have a particular responsibility for shaping a future worth living in for all people, on a healthy planet, with sustainable economic recovery, the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement in mind,” says the programme.

Sustainability is a true cross-cutting issue under the German G7 presidency.

Robert Habeck, economy and climate minister

Economy and climate minister Robert Habeck (Green Party) said that the G7 programme is “strongly influenced by the focus on sustainability issues.” He called it a “true cross-cutting issue” dealt with by all departments.

An ambitious climate and energy policy agenda should become a key element of the G7's boost for international cooperation. "This means an accelerated global coal phase-out, a forceful decarbonisation of sectors and the pursuit of a globally just transformation," he said.

The new German government’s first year has kicked off with a bang on foreign policy, as the country took over the G7 presidency. Today’s publication of the presidency programme largely confirms comments made by the chancellor and ministers in recent weeks. While it sets the tone for Germany’s efforts and the discussions among the G7 members over the coming months, current events could quickly derail the plans, such as developments at the Ukrainian-Russian border. Fears of an invasion by Russia have grown in recent days, as the country has reportedly gathered 100,000 troops at the border.

Aside from the summit of G7 heads of state and government on 26-28 June in Schloss Elmau in the Bavarian Alps, Germany will invite governments for ministerial-level meetings in different configurations to discuss G7 priorities. Many of these meetings are set to take place in May.

Researchers see the June summit as an important stepping stone in the 2022 global climate agenda – similar to the 2015 G7 summit, also under Germany’s presidency and also in Elmau. Under the lead of former chancellor Angela Merkel, the G7 heads of state and government agreed to phase out fossil fuel use by the end of the century and thus did their part to pave the way for a successful COP in Paris several months later, where countries adopted the Paris Agreement.

Germany to push for international climate club

Chancellor Scholz’s pet project on climate policy is the establishment of an open and cooperative international climate club – a partnership of the countries with the highest ambitions for climate policy worldwide.

The idea has been advocated by economist and Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus at least since 2015, and has recently gained ground in international policy circles. Scholz is a staunch supporter of using this vehicle to give additional impetus to the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement – and at the same time protect German industry from competitive disadvantages. As finance minister, he presented a first key-issues paper on an “ambitious, bold and cooperative” climate club this summer.

The G7 programme says the climate club’s objective is to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, among other things by reaching agreement on uniform standards for the emission and pricing of CO2, as well as with common measures for supporting countries that implement ambitious climate protection measures.

Dennis Snower, government advisor and president of the Global Solutions Initiative welcomed the push for joint standards through a climate club. “This will make it harder to undermine climate action measures and that is an important precondition for making climate action socially just.”

Cooperation with emerging and developing nations to promote sustainable infrastructure and investments

Getting the other G7 members on board for a climate club is one thing, promoting climate action beyond the group  another. The German government has made cooperation with emerging and developing countries another key focus of its G7 presidency.

Asked about what the climate club could offer the world’s poorest countries, Scholz said: “Within the framework of the G7 Presidency, we are of course also committing ourselves to enabling economic development in the world that also helps the poorest countries.”

The government wants to establish climate, energy and development partnerships “above and beyond the G7”. These are intended to promote the transfer of knowledge and technology, support climate policy reform and accelerate the just transition towards sustainable and climate-neutral societies. A particular focus will be on the promotion of sustainable infrastructure as well as the dialogue and cooperation with selected African and Indo-Pacific countries, says the programme.

Germany seeks to develop “concrete initiatives for promoting high-quality infrastructure”. It also wants to use existing infrastructure initiatives such as the EU’s Global Gateway and the G20 Compact with Africa. This could be seen as a response to China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Germany could build on its years of experience with bilateral “energy partnerships,” or look to minilateral projects, such as the South Africa coal deal announced at the COP26 session in Glasgow. The U.S., the UK, France, Germany and the European Union joined together in a first-of-its-kind partnership to support South Africa with 8.5 billion USD to move away from coal more quickly. The deal is seen as a blueprint for cooperation with other countries, which Germany could now push during its G7 presidency.

Industry association BDI welcomed the programme presented by the government. It said the priorities address important issues which are “among the key challenges of our time”. The government should push ahead with the gradual introduction of a CO2 price in all G7 countries and also flesh out the idea of global infrastructure partnerships.

Speeding up the energy transition at home

All efforts to push for more ambition at the global level could be futile if Germany lacks credibility due to insufficient progress at home. The country's energy policy is under heightened international scrutiny due to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and its role in the conflict with Russia, and the fact that the country will switch off its last nuclear reactors in 2022 as part of the phase-out at a time of rising energy prices.

Today, the cabinet also discussed ways to speed up the German transition to a climate-neutral and digital economy. “We have also discussed the changes in our own economy,” said chancellor Scholz. “It is important that we become much faster in Germany.”

Renewables expansion, for instance, has not progressed nearly at the speed necessary to reach interim climate targets in 2030 and get the country on a path compatible with the 1.5°C global warming limit of the Paris Agreement. This is a key promise of the new government, which has said it aims to accelerate planning and permitting procedures so that wind and solar parks can be built faster.

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