Germany has a fairy-tale allure for environmentalists. The burgeoning renewable sector, the phase out of nuclear, the transition to low carbon energy or Energiewende to give it its official name. Yet for all the windmills and solar panels Germany is not the green leader they want you to believe. Worst still the Coalition Agreement between Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and Sigmar Gabriel’s SDP seems to re-frame the focus on the national debate with a distinct shift away from the climate agenda. As EU Member States limber up for debates on the EU’s 2030 Climate and Energy policy as well as the structural reform of the EU emissions trading scheme (ETS) it’s unlikely that Germany will lead the charge for the ambitious camp; worst still they could potentially weaken the negotiations.
Like other EU Member States Germany feels under pressure. Domestic concerns court the attention of policy makers as public fears over the economy, immigration and energy prices take told. Just like in the UK the agenda, energy pricing, has emerged as a major political issue fault line and in Germany neither coalition party looks keen to draw too much attention to the costs of climate policy.
Ahead of Germany’s Federal elections there was a feeling of optimism. Both major parties pre-election manifestos were laced with ambitious language on climate policy. The CDU spoke of climate gushingly: “[Climate protection is one of the great challenges facing humanity](http://www.cdu.de/sites/default/files/media/dokumente/regierungsprogramm-2013-2017-langfassung-20130911.pdf “”)” they explained and that they wanted Germany “to be a global catalyst for effective climate protection”. The SDP spoke similarly and even went as far as calling for a Climate Law – similar to the UK’s Climate Act. They described environmental protections as “future orientated investments” and highlighted that tackling these challenges was not a luxury but rather “[a question for social justice](http://www.spd.de/linkableblob/96686/data/ “”)”. Notably both parties included a commitment in their manifestos to increase the EU’s emissions reduction target from 20% to 30% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, and that the EU emissions trading scheme should be “reactivated” or the “existing weaknesses solved.”
Both of these commitments were fundamental to German’s progressive role in EU climate policy, and are desperately needed. As of 2012, Europe’s emissions have already come down 18% relative to 1990 levels owing to the recession and environmental policies. While conventional wisdom has it that this leaves Europe eight years to reduce its emissions a meager 2%, the situation is actually far more dire. Europe set itself very generous carbon budgets to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas target: the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the EU Effort Sharing Decision. These budgets are so large that they leave Europe room to [grow its emissions by 2.2%](http://www.sandbag.org.uk/site_media/pdfs/reports/Sandbag_2020_Confidence_Trick_09122013.pdf “”) each year and still comfortably meet its obligations. More ambition in the climate target and in the carbon budgets beneath it, are essential if Europe is to keep its emissions in line with the cost-effective path towards its long term goals in 2050.
As the [Coalition Agreement emerged](http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/koalitionsvertrag136.pdf “”) it became clear that these pre-election positions on climate policy had vanished. Gone was the ambitious language on climate change; the commitment to moving to a 30% 2020 target and the need to strengthen the EU ETS. In its place was vague language about supporting “at least” 40% 2030 target and a confusing sentence explaining that the ETS should be corrected only if the EU misses its targets.
As policy makers, businesses and NGOs paw through the Coalition Agreement, interpretations abound. As ever the devil is in the detail and it will be some time before the legal implications are fully understood. Yet at this stage the early interpretations seem a little academic. The broader message the Coalition Agreement has sent is clear and already proving damaging. Germany has no intention of leading the EU’s ambition on climate and energy policy. Rather it’s weary after the Euro Crisis and is keen for its leading role on the EU stage to diminish – at least long enough to pay heed to the domestic concerns that prey on the average citizen.
The reality is Germany is not the green leader they want to world to believe. Their annual greenhouse gas emission have [increased since 2009 levels](http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/data-viewers/greenhouse-gases-viewer “”), they are using more coal and an ineffective carbon market let’s their energy intensive industries pollute business as usual. The sooner EU Member States see through Germany’s green veneer the sooner a real champion for progressive EU climate and energy policy can emerge.