Climate and energy policy could decide next German government

The speed and scale of coal-phase out was one of the main sticking points in coalition talks between German parties. [Shutterstock]

Climate and energy policy could emerge as a make-or-break topic in Germany’s coalition negotiations, after Sunday’s election result put Angela Merkel’s Conservatives on a path to forming a government with the Liberal and Green parties.

Chancellor Merkel’s underwhelming victory and the Social Democratic (SPD) party’s current unwillingness to form another Grand Coalition with the CDU/CSU have increased the chances of a ‘Jamaica’ alliance with the Free Democratic (FDP) and Green parties.

But climate change and energy policy are likely to make complex negotiations even more difficult, as many observers claim that the two junior parties are incompatible and will end up losing support if they compromise on campaign promises.

NGO Germanwatch’s Christoph Bals warned that the Jamaica option is “a highly risky situation” for the Greens and failure to achieve visible progress on climate change could mean “a bitter loss at the polls next time”.

Is German climate leadership being sacrificed on the altar of coal?

The pre-election politicking currently going on in Germany should ring alarm bells among climate policy advocates, warns Julian Schwartzkopff. If Angela Merkel does not take personal ownership of securing a climate-compatible coal phase-out, she could jeopardise her legacy as “climate chancellor”, he writes.

The Greens have already pledged to start phasing out coal as soon as possible and to go completely coal-free by 2030. Merkel’s latest stint as chancellor saw little to no progress in coming up with a concrete roadmap for the phase-out.

Claudia Kemfert, the German Institute for Economic Research’s (DIW) main energy expert, insisted that the new government “needs to include the coal phase-out in its coalition agreement” in order for Germany to meet its climate targets.

Germany needs to start coal phase-out by 2019 to honour Paris targets

If Germany wants to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement then it must start phasing out coal as an energy source by the end of the decade, according to a major new study by WWF Germany. EURACTIV Germany reports.

However, both Kemfert and Susanne Dröge of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) doubted that this will actually happen, given the FDP’s opposition to state control of sector targets in the past and the “poor” example shown by the CDU over the last four years.

Dröge predicted that any resulting coalition contract will instead plump for some form of expert commission instead, in order to “buy time”.

The German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE) acknowledged that all potential members of the Jamaica coalition have committed themselves to the Paris Agreement’s targets and urged the next federal government to pursue carbon-free energy sources, as there “is no way around an accelerated energy transition”.

Other green policies include banning the sale of new combustion-engine cars from 2030, a full decade ahead of what are already ambitious plans announced by France and the United Kingdom.

UK to reward green consumers, ban dirty vehicles

British consumers could enjoy savings worth billions of pounds as a result of major changes to electricity generation, usage and storage, under new plans by the UK government. Westminster also intends to ban sales of new diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

This latter pledge is likely to be even more problematic to negotiate given the close nature of the relationship between the CDU and the car industry – a traditional stalwart of Germany’s industrial might. Dröge insisted that this will not change “in any of the potential new coalitions”.

Instead, she predicted that carmakers will set themselves their own voluntary targets, when faced with the possibility of driving bans for diesel cars, electric vehicle quotas and legislation in their key international markets, especially China.

China eclipses Europe as 2020 solar power target is smashed

China has reached its 2020 solar power target three years ahead of schedule, after installed capacity topped well over its 105GW target. Europe has been urged to show similar ambition.

Climate think tank E3G’s Sabrina Schulz was more optimistic about the green potential of a Jamaica coalition though, claiming it would be “a return to decisive climate action, a plan for a future phase-out of coal and the internal combustion engine”.

If negotiations between the three political forces do proceed as expected, the Greens could find themselves in the enviable position of the power-broker. Or they could face the same compromising trap the SPD fell into four years ago, which then led to its worst election result in recent memory.