Germany Leads with Release of Long-Term Climate Strategy

Laima Politajs | November 17, 2016.

A quarrel within the German Social Democratic Party last week threatened to send Environmental Minister Barbara Hendricks empty handed to the COP22 in Marrakech. The economic ministry had been blocking several progressive passages around safeguarding coal union interests for example but, in the end a compromise was reached. On Monday Hendricks presented the long awaited “Climate Action Plan 2050”, making Germany the first industrial country to develop a long-term strategy in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The plan includes strong goals for greenhouse gas emissions, remains flexible to adjusting strategies based on scientific and technological advancement, and brings a razor to the reductions needed for each economic sector. Domestic and international groups are holding back the party streamers though, cautioning against unclear emission reduction numbers and continued support for the coal mining industry.

Germany’s strong greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals send a clear signal that it intends to proceed with the implementation of the Paris Agreement regardless of future US climate politics under Trump. The Climate Action Plan will reduce emissions by 80 to 95 per cent by 2050. This goal is in line with the Paris Agreement’s ambition to limit global warming to 2°C by 2100, and sets a strong precedent for other countries. Through bilateral partnerships Germany aims to support developing countries to do the same.

Flexibility to respond to changing scientific and technological knowledge is an encouraging component of Germany’s platform. The strategy contains intermediate goals for 2030 allowing for the plan to be updated regularly. This is an important prerequisite for Germany to be a credible leader calling for a rise in mitigation ambitions on an international level in future stages of negotiations.

Germany promises reductions within energy, industry, transport, housing and agriculture through 2030. The detailed reduction targets for each sector give an extra nudge to arenas that have been moving slowly so far—the plan is clear in the need to decarbonise transportation and energy building on recent announcements by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

While Germany’s political consensus on climate action sets an encouraging precedent, the compromises that brought it to the table leave visible gaps and unclear direction. “Lets give them a big hug, but it has to be a short hug,” remarked the Climate Action Network in its analysis of the text.

National NGOs hoped for a strong line of 95 per cent emission reductions by 2050, rather than the current wide gap of 80-95 per cent. The climate change performance index reveals that German ambitions are too low when compared with their potential. A commission assigned to work on a “soft” transition to the coal mining sector also leaves big questions about Germany’s commitment to a concrete end of coal mining which would not take place until 2018.

Pressure on the government to act will continue as the German anti-coal movement rises. The German Climate Action Plan begs to be filled with life and concrete measures still if it is to be a guiding strategy. There’s still a lot homework to be done.

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