Policy: German Greens Struggle in Climate Election Race

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• Deadly summer floods in Germany have brought home the effects of climate change ahead of federal elections in September. • This could consolidate the gains of the Green Party to become a kingmaker in a future coalition government. • Europe’s largest economy is under pressure to speed up its climate policies as expert consensus urges more stringent measures. The Issue The German Green Party topped the polls earlier in the year running on a wave of an electorate hungry for faster climate action and spurred by discontent with rival political parties (EC Mar.19'21). The party has since lost steam following a series of controversies. But polls show that the Greens could still have a prominent position in any coalition government after the elections, which will put a target on fossil fuels. The resulting government will have to balance implementing a strong climate policy with next year’s nuclear power exit and a coal and lignite phaseout in the 2030s. Pressure to Act Momentum has been building to increase governments’ actions to combat escalating climate change after the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in Europe, and amid the rise of extreme weather worldwide. In July, the EU published stringent climate policy proposals to decarbonize the European economy alongside strong social funds to lessen the plan's impact on poorer EU citizens and member states (EC Jul.16'21). This week, a grim report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that time is running out to limit the effects of global warming, clearly linking it to human influence (IOD Aug.9'21). The report notes the need to mitigate methane emissions, a main component of natural gas and a harmful greenhouse gas. It also reinforces the wake-up call nature of the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 road map, released in May, which said limiting global warming to 1.5°C meant no new oil or gas exploration (EC Jun.11'21). Within Germany, the election campaign has been dominated by the devastating floods over the summer that left over 200 dead. Environmental Minister Svenja Schulze said the floods showed that climate change has arrived in Germany and the country cannot afford not to invest in climate protection. Carbon dioxide emissions in Germany during the first half of the year rose over 6% year on year following lower renewable power generation and more fossil fuel use, primarily natural gas, according to think tank AG Energiebilanzen. Green Policy Platform In its electoral manifesto, the Green Party pledged to slash emissions by 70% from 1990 levels by 2030, a more stringent target than Berlin’s recent pledge for a 65% cut. The party wants to push forward the coal exit to 2030 from 2038, and increase the fixed national CO2 price to €60 ($70) per ton by 2023 from the current €25/ton. Julia Verlinden, a member of the Bundestag and Green Party MEP, told Energy Intelligence there isn’t just one measure to achieve the emissions reductions (NE Jul.29'21). "We need a much faster building of renewable energies, especially wind and solar energy. But also, in the fields of transport, housing and agriculture there is high potential to cut greenhouse gases." The Greens also proposed the creation of a climate ministry with veto power over other ministries if their plans are not in line with the Paris Agreement. The party sees the need to shrink the role of natural gas in the economy, replacing it with low-carbon gases and green hydrogen where possible. "We support new gas infrastructure only when it is hydrogen-ready and serves to accelerate the transition of our energy supply toward a climate-neutral economy," Verlinden says. Gas should only be used when greener alternatives aren't available. The Greens oppose the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project (EC Jul.23'21). Green Agenda Concerns Despite popular support for stronger climate action, the Greens have struggled to surpass the competition. The party has yet to shake its reputation as the Verbotspartei, or prohibition party, on the back of proposals to ban short-haul flights and increase the price of petrol by 16¢ per liter. The Greens have opted to soften their electoral campaign message to avoid an accusatory tone in the aftermath of the floods, so far to questionable effect. The party has also been hit by accusations that co-chair and chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock lied in her CV and plagiarized parts of her book. Some in the business world have also lashed out against the Greens’ manifesto. Holger Loesch, deputy managing director of the Federation of German Industries lobby group, which backs market-based approaches to net zero, was concerned that the Greens' election program weighed too much on the taxpayer and provided little support for industry. The creation of a climate protection ministry would see the country “heading into a climate-planned economy instead of stimulating necessary innovations and investments,” Loesch also said. Chemical producers trade group VCI said that while the Greens’ ideas for some investment incentives and faster renewable expansion are good, much of it would be counteracted by the cost burden of a higher CO2 price. Potential Coalitions A struggling Green party and an unpopular Christian Democrat Union (CDU) leaves the door open for a plethora of coalition compositions, and months of intense negotiations. The latest aggregate poll by Pollytix Strategic Research puts the CDU at just under 27% and the Greens at 19%, which means that they would need a third party to clear the 50% threshold needed to compose a coalition government. Following 2017 federal elections, coalition talks lasted for four months, during which a potential four-party coalition involving the Greens collapsed (IOD Feb.8'18). A stronger, center-left Social Democratic Party could open the door to a possible deal with the Greens and the center-right, pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP). But the FDP opposes strict climate targets and left the 2017 coalition talks after disagreements over, among other things, “an ideological energy policy that would have deindustrialized Germany,” as its general secretary said at the time. A clash with the Greens’ policy plans is almost guaranteed this time around. Jaime Concha, Copenhagen

Elections, Low-Carbon Policy, Hydrogen
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