Will Climate Change Controversy Bring Down Angela Merkel?
When it comes to climate change, there are worlds apart between Germany’s aspiring Jamaica Coalition partners. It is all about coal and it is not certain the divide can be bridged.
When the wind is not blowing and the sky is overcast by dark clouds, wind turbines and solar panels cannot generate any electricity. Energy bottlenecks are threatening. Business organisations warn that such “dark doldrums” could trigger complete shutdown in Germany’s industrial heartland. Coal-fired power plants, thus, are indispensable for a long time to come. The Green Party, however, is calling for a coal exit as quickly as possible to protect the global climate and demands that the 20 dirtiest power plants should be switched off immediately.
Graphic: Germany’s energy mix … on windy and sunny days
Green Party demands the end of nuclear and coal – but can Angela Merkel survive caving in to an utopian ultimatum?
No other subject in the exploratory talks about a possible ‘Jamaica’ coalition government in Berlin is as controversial as the subject of climate protection. During the second round of climate talks on Thursday, Christian Democrats, Liberals and Greens clashed yet again. According to participants, Armin Laschet (CDU) and Toni Hofreiter (Greens) brawled particularly hard.
As Prime Minister of coal-rich North Rhine-Westphalia Laschet is a sort of patron saint of the country’s coal miners. The belligerent party leader Hofreiter, on the other hand, has repeatedly emphasized that the Greens would never join a coalition government “without a coal exit.” The Liberal Party (FDP), in turn, is concerned about Germany’s energy security and its economic competitiveness. In short, these are most difficult conditions for a common government position. At least Angela Merkel, once praised as “climate chancellor”, has made it clear that nothing will shake Germany’s climate targets. So far, the common commitment to the Paris Agreement has been the only, scant minimum consensus.
But when it comes to the question of how much CO2 Germany needs to cut in coming years, opinions differ widely. The Greens seem to start from targets three times higher than those of the CDU and the FDP. Thus, while all agree that climate change is a problem, there is no agreement about how big it is – and certainly not about how it can be solved.
When, on Thursday, Anton Hofreiter (Greens) would not deviate one inch from his demand for a complete coal exit as soon as possible, Armin Laschet went ballistic. The Greens, he argued, probably accept that energy bottlenecks would be offset by electricity from dirty coal-fired power plants in Eastern Europe or French nuclear power plants.
Climate protection, security of supply, electricity prices, the interests of the coal regions – all this contentious issues will be difficult to reconcile. However, Christian Democrats and Liberals also know that the Greens must present successes to their party base on the coal issue in order to gain its members’ approval of joining a coalition government.
The CDU, for example, is now saying that it would not stand in the way of “a climate-oriented reduction of coal-fired power generation”. Although a radical coal exit is rejected, deadline solutions for the gradual shutdown of almost 150 coal and lignite power plants seem quite conceivable. To compensate, more electricity could be generated, for example, from biogas and hydropower.
A similarly violent quarrel rages around the phasing out of petrol cars. But even here an agreement is not impossible. The formula could be: no fast ban on the combustion engine, as the Greens demand, but a stronger promotion of electric cars. Nevertheless, in terms of climate protection, the parties lag far behind their negotiating goals. If they do not catch up quickly, Jamaica itself will be threatened by “dark doldrums”. And then all bets are off.