Chancellor Merkel speaking at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin. Source: BMUB/Thomas Koehler
23 May 2017 | Sören Amelang

Merkel vows to convince climate sceptic “elephant in the room”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to try and convince “doubters” of the urgent need to mitigate climate change. But environmental organisations said her credibility as “Climate Chancellor” was severely damaged because Germany had failed to agree to end burning coal for power production.

In a speech on Tuesday, Merkel said the world faced a common destiny because of climate change. She said much work was still needed “to convince doubters,” without making direct references to the US government or president Donald Trump.

Asked about what she would do to get the “elephant in the room” closer to the negotiating table, Merkel only said work was being done on this issue.

“But this has to be done in two-way talks. We have important conferences in the coming days, and it is obvious what our desires are,” Merkel said at the 8th Petersberg Climate Dialogue, which serves to prepare the UN Climate Conference in Bonn (COP23) in November.

“But this has to be done in a way that the expression of the wish doesn’t automatically rule out its fulfilment. This is why I try to act prudent and with restraint, not because my heart is not filled with the conviction that climate protection is important.”

On Monday, Germany and China had increased pressure on the US government to stay in the Paris Climate Agreement ahead of the G7 summit in Taormina in Italy at the end of this week, and the G20 summit in Hamburg in July. Environment minister Barbara Hendricks said Germany was trying “on all levels” to persuade the US to stay in the Agreement.

Merkel said the example of Germany’s energy transition – the shift from fossils and nuclear to renewables - showed that it was worthwhile to forge ahead with climate mitigation efforts even if this required great efforts.

“Like trying to extinguish a fire with petrol”

But environmental NGO Greenpeace said Merkel’s credibility as “Climate Chancellor” was undermined because she blocked a coal exit in Germany.

"Climate protection without coal exit is like trying to extinguish a fire with petrol," said Greenpeace's Karsten Smid in a press release.

Christoph Bals, Policy Director of Environmental NGO Germanwatch, said “promoting climate protection at the international stage while simultaneously missing out on exiting coal, oil, and gas at home won’t go well together for too long.”

Bals argued the German government had to introduce a national carbon price “as quickly as possible.”

Merkel said in her speech a world-wide emissions trading system would be the ideal instrument to fight climate change. “A global carbon market would be an incentive for the most efficient production possible, while ruling out a distortion of competition.”

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