28 April 2010

German Climate Policy Up in the Air?

The German government has others things on its agenda these days. However, an article from Der Spiegel contains some interesting and suggestive insights into the evolution of Germany's climate policies:
. . . starting this weekend, the German government will attempt to rekindle international efforts to save the Earth's climate as it hosts a conference at the Petersberg Hotel near Bonn. But, at the same time, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has now decided to change the course of her climate policy.

As recently as last December she said: "If we don't succeed in limiting global warming to 2 degrees, then the costs of the resulting damages will be many times higher than what we now, with a change in our lifestyle, can achieve."

Now it's a different story: Merkel will no longer endeavor to contractually implement the 2-degree target -- in other words, to reach a legally binding agreement with specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. She doesn't want to be snubbed again because she has realized that important countries won't lend their support the next time around either. This was confirmed two weeks ago at the nuclear summit in Washington by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Limits of Germany's Influence

Germany now has to acknowledge the limits of its influence. The country's climate policy was an attempt to play a leadership role on the grand stage. But the others didn't follow suit. On paper they praise the objective, but they are not prepared to do more than make vague promises. The only way forward, it seems, is by taking side roads. But even there the Chinese and the Indians won't simply trot along behind the Germans.

On the domestic front, this threatens to bring down the great symbol of Germany's efforts to remodel society in line with a climate-friendly lifestyle and mode of production. If Merkel is no longer fighting on the international stage to achieve the 2-degree target, how does she intend to convince her fellow Germans that they have to change anything? A domestic temperature target would be absurd.

What is to emerge is not made clear in the article, but there are some interesting suggestions about what might:
After having dreamt of achieving the great objective, now it's time for realpolitik. Merkel and Röttgen had to admit that countries like China and India will not submit to a mandatory target that others have contrived. They are continuing to pursue their climate policies, but are focusing strictly on domestic issues -- and neither is willing to relinquish any of their sovereignty. Germany is adapting to this and now plans to launch concrete climate protection projects with individual partner countries. Röttgen speaks of a new approach: "In Bonn we want to create a new level that will allow us not only to point towards CO2 targets from above, but also to launch projects from below that produce measurable successes." This includes forest protection and more concrete cooperation in the transfer of environmentally friendly technologies. . .

Röttgen is already trying to move forward by emphasizing additional arguments beyond the 2-degree target -- primarily based on economic reasoning. "We can live well and cheaply now at our children's expense over the next 20 years or invest in long-term opportunities," he says. German environmental technologies are an export hit, "one of the leading sources of prosperity that we have," and crude oil and other natural resources are becoming increasingly scarce, he adds. But he still hasn't made any significant headway in convincing the ministers in his coalition government -- which is comprised of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party -- that climate protection is not a hopeless issue plagued by sacrifice, but rather a "win-win-win opportunity" for industry, the environment and future generations. Here, too, he is fighting an uphill battle.
A technology-centered approach focused on "win-win-win" rather than sacrifice makes good sense, but it will probably take a while to take hold in Germany, and the EU more generally. But it will, eventually.