Germany unveils more support for climate change fight

Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel speaks at the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations, on Sept 23, 2019.
Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel speaks at the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations, on Sept 23, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

In a speech not shy of self-criticism, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a sober assessment of the fight against climate change.

In her statement at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York, Dr Merkel acknowledged yesterday: "If all countries would act the way we do, global emissions would double."

Germany, which is set to miss its climate targets for 2020, had just revealed days before a plan to reduce greenhouse gases.

"We have all heard the wake-up call of the youth," Dr Merkel said. "There is no doubt that climate change is man-made. That is why we have to follow the advice of science."

She said Germany will increase its funding for global climate protection measures from €2 billion (S$3 billion) to €4 billion, but details were unclear. "We only have one planet, all of us together," she said.

The German government has earlier unveiled a comprehensive €54 billion package of measures to fight global warming, just days before the start of yesterday's summit.

After a long night of negotiations, the coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats last Friday agreed to introduce, as a key element, a system to allow the trading of emission certificates for transport and heating - two sectors that make up one-third of Germany's greenhouse gas emissions.

The existing European Union trading system so far concentrates on industrial outputs only.

 
 
 

The fight over how to put a price tag on emissions from heating and transport had long been a sticking point between the two political parties. While the Social Democrats, junior partner in the coalition, were asking for a general carbon tax, the conservatives were favouring a market-oriented solution that builds on expanding the trading system.

While this is a key part of the plan, many other measures will be put into place to allow Germany to reach emission targets by 2030. By that time, greenhouse gas emissions will be cut by 55 per cent from 1990 levels.

The plan was a clear compromise of conflicting goals. While under pressure from more than 100,000 protesters in Berlin last Friday demanding a more aggressive fight against climate change, the government was also wary that imposing too high a financial burden could spark a similar movement as in France.

The so-called yellow vest protests began after French President Emmanuel Macron raised fuel prices to decrease traffic. Although fuel costs will also rise under the German proposal, they will come more gradually and probably at a time when switching to electric cars will be easier.

Besides the introduction of a trading system for heating and transport, the government's plan includes measures ranging from extending grants for electric car buyers to building a network of charging stations, raising road taxes for polluting vehicles, improving heating systems for buildings and raising a green surcharge for plane tickets.

"Politics is what is possible," Dr Merkel told a briefing after the 19-hour marathon talks.

Shortly before the compromise was reached, Dr Merkel described the dilemma in her weekly podcast: "On the one hand, we want climate protection measures to be effective to meet our commitments. On the other hand, we want to be economically sensible and act in a socially acceptable way so that all people can afford climate protection."

Reactions to the plan were mixed. While industrial leaders consider the measures doable as they will not stall the economic engine, many green activists feel the package is not bold enough.

The opposition Green Party characterised the plan as "slow, sloppy and non-committal". Greenpeace Germany head Martin Kaiser said that the measures left Germany "miles behind its obligations from the Paris climate agreement".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2019, with the headline 'Germany unveils more support for climate change fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe