Heat on Merkel over coal and cars

Oman Daily Observer - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK ZELLER

An­gela Merkel has been dubbed the “cli­mate chan­cel­lor” but she now faces the real risk of Ger­many, a green en­ergy pi­o­neer, miss­ing its emis­sions re­duc­tion tar­get on her watch. Bat­tles over dirty coal plants and the com­bus­tion en­gine have dogged her ef­forts to forge an un­likely three-way gov­ern­ing al­liance with the Greens and pro-busi­ness Free Democrats (FDP).

They are also flash­point is­sues as Ger­many and Fiji co-host UN cli­mate talks in Bonn, which Merkel will ad­dress dur­ing a visit on Wed­nes­day with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron.

Crit­ics charge that Merkel, a trained physi­cist who has of­ten cham­pi­oned cli­mate ac­tion on the world stage, tends to cave in to busi­ness and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests when it mat­ters.

Merkel has op­posed stricter EU emis­sions lim­its for cars, fought planned diesel bans in ci­ties suf­fer­ing toxic air pol­lu­tion and shelved a plan to get one mil­lion elec­tric ve­hi­cles onto Ger­man roads by 2020.

Weekly news­pa­per Die Zeit harshly com­pared Merkel’s poli­cies to that of cli­mate change-deny­ing US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, adding that “at least Trump is hon­est about it”.

Merkel, at a G7 sum­mit she hosted in 2015, wrested a cru­cial if lofty prom­ise from the world’s lead­ing economies — to “de­car­bonise” by the end of the cen­tury.

On Satur­day, she said Ger­many and other ad­vanced economies must make sure “things change” in order to slow the trend of melt­ing ice caps, ris­ing seas and wors­en­ing storms, floods and droughts.

“The ur­gency, as we can tell from the nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, is great,” she warned, stress­ing that an over­heat­ing planet was a key driver of mi­grant flows.

But she also made clear that Ger­many must pro­tect its “in­dus­trial core” and that “if steel­works, alu­minium plants and cop­per smelters all leave our coun­try and move some­where with weaker en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, then we won’t have gained any­thing for the global cli­mate”.

Miss­ing from that list were coal­fired power plants, Ger­many’s cur­rent en­vi­ron­men­tal hot-but­ton is­sue that has sparked mass ral­lies.

Ger­many has in the past two decades raised the share of wind, so­lar and other clean re­new­ables to one-third of its elec­tric­ity needs, while moth­balling nu­clear plants.

But coal, cheap and abun­dant, still makes up 40 per cent, and Ger­many’s car­bon emis­sions have not fallen for the past eight years.

Ger­many has promised to cut its green­house gas emis­sions by 40 per cent by 2020 from 1990 lev­els. But it is now on track for only a 32-per cent re­duc­tion.

Miss­ing the clos­est tar­get would raise big ques­tions about Ger­many’s far more am­bi­tious goals of slash­ing emis­sions by 55 per cent by 2030 — and by up to 95 per cent by mid-cen­tury.

The Greens, in the lead-up to Septem­ber elec­tions, had promised to shut­ter Ger­many’s 20 most pol­lut­ing coal plants, and phase out coal and fos­sil fu­elpow­ered cars by 2030.

But last week, in the face of harsh op­po­si­tion from their ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners, the party dropped those spe­cific dead­lines.

The pro-busi­ness FDP has sug­gested Ger­many could sim­ply scrap its emis­sion tar­gets.

Merkel’s con­ser­va­tives also op­pose rapid ac­tion on coal, given the more than 20,000 jobs in­volved, many of which are in the ex-com­mu­nist east where the far­right AfD party has al­ready made ma­jor in­roads.

On the other side of the de­bate, Green­peace urged Merkel to “sig­nal a full coal phase-out in the new coali­tion gov­ern­ment agree­ment”, warn­ing that “the time for cli­mate sweet talk has ended”.

Lead­ing sci­en­tists united in the Ger­man Cli­mate Con­sor­tium is­sued a plea for Ger­many to end coal.

One of their veter­ans, Hans Joachim Schellnhu­ber, head of the Pots­dam In­sti­tute for Cli­mate Im­pact Re­search, voiced scep­ti­cism about politi­cians and cli­mate pol­icy.

“First they make a prom­ise... then they drag their feet,” he said.

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