01 Dec 2016 | Julian Wettengel

IEA director calls on Germany to lead on climate during G20 presidency

Calls for Germany to take on a leadership role in international climate protection grow louder as the country’s government is set to take over the G20 presidency from China on 1 December. Commentators and politicians see the Energiewende country filling a potential gap left open by a new US administration since Donald Trump’s election victory. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson presented implementing the Paris Agreement as one of many core topics for the German presidency. [Updates with comments from Merkel, G20 sherpa Röller]

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), sees Germany carrying a special responsibility in the coming months. “Germany’s G20 leadership, especially in the area of climate change, is of critical and historical importance,” said Birol when presenting his organisation’s World Energy Outlook 2016 in Berlin.

Many observers see Germany in a special role on the issue as they fear that the United States will shift into reverse gear on climate under the new administration. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at an event of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she would try to work on climate policy with US President-elect Trump, who has said that he might pull out of the Paris Agreement.

Merkel pointed out that climate negotiations with US presidents have not been easy in the past and said that she would clearly voice her position to future president Trump: "Of course, I will then say that I believe that climate change is absolutely caused by people," Merkel said, adding: "We want to see how the positions develop."

Merkel’s spokesperson Steffen Seibert, meanwhile, laid out the main topics of the German government’s G20 presidency. Merkel’s agenda will be based on three pillars:

  1. Securing stable and resilient economies
  2. Improving the sustainability of these economies
  3. Strengthening the G20 as a “community of responsibility” – especially regarding Africa 

The focus is clearly on the stability of the economies, including reforms of the financial systems and strengthening fair and free international trade.

As part of the second pillar, Merkel wants to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. “Discussing sustainable energy and climate concepts will be equally important,” the government says in a press release.

Germany’s G20 sherpa Lars-Hendrik Röller said, Germany would be using its presidency to “push hard” on furthering the UN’s Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and ensure that “climate and energy are looked at together.” A study prepared by the OECD would accompany these efforts on the G20 level by showing “a decarbonisation strategy that spurs economic growth” and create jobs in green technology.

Also, Röller explained that while former presidencies were primarily focussing on long-term goals such as sustainability, Germany would also make “resilience” to current events a focal point, citing the development of climate insurance schemes for African countries as an example for this approach.

Filling the US gap

For Susanne Dröge, Senior Fellow at German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), climate protection efforts take on an even more important role in light of the upcoming US administration's likely reversal of climate legislation. Germany and other EU member states should strengthen cooperation on climate protection, she writes in a commentary.

She sees the next opportunity for such leadership at the G20 summit on 7-8 July 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. “On this occasion, Germany and its allies could show their economic interests in setting a reliable and ambitious climate protection agenda,” writes Dröge.

Federal environment minister Barbara Hendricks also sees Europe “filling the gap” created by Trump in climate protection. “We will have to brace for a situation in which the USA no longer shows the determination to press ahead with ambitious goals together with China,” Hendricks said at the energy efficiency association DENEFF financial forum for energy efficiency in Berlin this week.

Environmental organisation Germanwatch welcomed Chancellor Merkel’s priority list as a signal to the new US administration. “It is correct that the federal government also confronts the new US government with the expectation [that the G20 played a central role in averting a global climate crisis]. The G20 should agree that all member states present long-term climate protection plans by 2018 that show how the Paris Agreement obligation can be implemented,” said Christoph Bals, policy director at Germanwatch.

Germany will take over the G20 presidency from China on 1 December. Until the Hamburg summit on 7-8 July, several ministerial meetings will take place, such as the finance, foreign and health ministers and Chancellor Merkel plans to meet with different groups of civil society.

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