The German government inched closer Friday to agreeing a new package of measures for tackling global warming, as protesters rallied in the capital to demand decisive action against climate change.
German news agency dpa reported that the country’s governing parties, who have been split over how best to cut the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions, achieved a breakthrough following all-night talks in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to present details of the plan later in the day, following a special Cabinet meeting.
The direction Europe’s biggest economy takes on climate change is being closely watched elsewhere.
German voters have made clear they consider climate change the most pressing issue of the day. Students have embraced Swedish teenager activist Greta Thunberg’s weekly protests, holding large rallies — often during school-time — in major cities on Fridays that have received widespread support.
On the back of this environmental concern the German Green party has seen a surge in support, coming second in May’s elections for the European Parliament. Its success has spurred Germany’s governing parties to take a stronger stance against global warming.
A poll released Friday by ARD television showed 63% of voters saying the government should prioritize climate protection over economic growth. Only 24% said economic growth should take priority.
HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?
Germany has the sixth biggest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, with a 2.1% share of the total. It wants to cut those emissions by 55% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. This would mean reducing Germany’s annual output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from 866 million metric tons currently to 563 million tons by the end of the next decade.
Failure to do so would cost Germany financially; under European Union rules, the country could be fined billions of euros if it doesn’t meet the bloc’s emissions reduction targets.
What’s more, Merkel has warned that Germany could lose its position as a technological leader if it doesn’t invest in future clean industries.
CHARGING FOR CARBON
The biggest divide between Germany’s governing parties was over how to charge for carbon emissions.
Dpa reported that Merkel’s center-right Union bloc and the center-left Social Democrats have agreed to put a price on transportation and heating fuels, starting at 3 euro-cents (about 3.3 U.S. cents) per liter of diesel or gasoline in 2021, rising to ten euro-cents (about 11 U.S. cents) in 2026.
The parties agreed to levy the charge with the help of an emissions trading system, or ETS. The advantage of such as system over a hike in fuel taxes is that it can be integrated into the Europe Union’s existing ETS for heavy industry and the power sector. By setting a cap on the quantity of certificates available, and steadily reducing that level, Germany and the EU could also ensure emissions targets are met.
German manufacturers — including the country’s powerful automakers — have indicated that they want a clear signal from the government on the path ahead.
Dieter Kempf, head of Germany’s industrial lobby group BDI, urged the government to stop delaying decisions on climate and energy policy. He called for incentives to invest in climate-friendly technology but spoke out against bans on heavily polluting technology or strict targets for individual sectors.
Martin Kaiser, executive director of Greenpeace Germany, warned the government not to be beholden to industry, which has successfully blocked strict emissions targets in recent years.
“Phasing out the combustion engine by 2025 is technically possible,” he said.
While this seems unlikely, dpa reported the governing parties have agreed to ban the installation of new oil-burning furnaces from 2026.
Merkel, who was Germany’s environment minister during the first U.N. climate conference in 1995, has repeatedly called tackling global warming a “vital question for humanity.” But her four terms of office haven’t seen the kind of push some had hoped for.
As other countries cut their emissions significantly, and set ever more ambitious targets, Germany’s emissions have stalled amid opposition from the country’s powerful industrial lobby.
In a sign that she’s hoping to secure a deal, Merkel plans to attend the U.N. climate summit in New York next week, where she will deliver a speech Monday.