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The future's looking green

Now even the entrepreneurs become nervous: they want to know how the German government intends to manage the transition to the post-fossil age that it has instigated.

Nowadays, revolutions come in figures and not with barricades. Although the following figures may seem as though they came directly from the Green Party’s HQ, they were actually written by the Federation of German Industries (BDI): The prices of petrol and diesel would have to go up by about a third in Germany. The number of electric cars would have to go up to 10 million before 2030. That’s double the amount of previous predictions. 2,500 kilometres of the autobahn network would have to be equipped with overhead lines for electrically powered trucks to drive under, similar to the trams in the city today.

The BDI’s analysis claims that these measures are necessary in order for the German Federal Government to meet the climate goals they have committed themselves to. CO₂ emissions are supposed to sink by 55 percent by 2030. The country should be aiming for a CO₂ neutral economy by 2050. And this won’t happen on its own. It will require a change in our way of life and economy that has never been witnessed before. According to the economic experts, this would also require investments of up to 250 billion euros, which is more than two thirds of the annual federal budget.

According to Lenin, the Germans are so disciplined that they would buy a train ticket before charging a train station. But those days are long gone. Nowadays, they sign contracts and get so anxious that they don’t want to talk about them.

When Angela Merkel signed the Paris Agreement in December 2015, she was actually starting a revolution to end the fossil fuel age. Germany took an oath under international law to make a national contribution to global climate protection. By signing the Agreement, Merkel committed her government to decide on concrete measures and to announce them.

Unfortunately, for the past three years the government has hardly spoken about this transition into the post-fossil fuel era. Merkel gave the impression that things can mostly stay the way they are. But 2030 is only eleven years from now. Time is running out, and people are really starting to think about the consequences of complying with climate protection targets. And the measures we would have to take today. This is also one of the reasons why the Munich Reinsurance Company is starting to get more engaged in climate politics. And why an economic association like the BDI is doing climate research. Companies want to know exactly what’s going to happen to them, while simultaneously finding business opportunities.

This is causing Germany to get caught up in a strange and possibly fatal contradiction: Large parts of the economy, car companies as well as farmers, are demanding more clarity for the future than Merkel’s end-of-era government has the courage to give them. So does the Paris Agreement apply, or not?

This has caused a veritable dispute about climate protection within the grand coalition, which was triggered by the draft of the climate protection law, which Federal Minister of the Environment Svenja Schulze (SPD) sent to the Chancellor’s Office last week for so-called early coordination. This process is used by ministers whose concerns are so controversial that they can only be realized and brought through the cabinet and the Bundestag by the Chancellor herself. The climate protection law is tricky because it’s forcing all the federal ministers to finally implement the government’s promises: According to the bill, each ministry is responsible for meeting its own climate protection targets. If the specifications are not met, penalties must be paid from the respective ministry’s budget.

The CDU/CSU and the SPD have been rowing ever since. Although the CDU negotiators had agreed to a climate law during the coalition negotiations, since the Minister of the Environment has gotten serious about it, many don’t want to remember. Minister for Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) criticizes that Schulze’s bill serves neither climate protection nor the preservation of jobs. CDU deputy faction leader Georg Nüßlein speaks of “de-democratisation” and a “green-robed economic plan”.

The ministries led by the CDU/CSU simply have no interest in discussing the burdens arising with climate protection. Nor do their ministers want to be associated with the costs. Nor do they want to bear the cost of losing. In fact, at the beginning of this legislature, the CDU/CSU picked precisely those ministries that will now have to do the most CO₂ saving.

Take agriculture for example: In order to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the production of meat and milk would have to be drastically reduced. Cattle farming is particularly problematic because the digestion of the animals produces harmful methane. In agriculture, intensive fertilisation leads to nitrous oxide, which also damages the climate enormously. Emissions from agriculture would have to be reduced by 30 percent until 2030 (compared to 1990). But there’s not enough being done for that to happen. Even though the government has promised "that EU agricultural subsidies will be based on EU climate policy decisions,” Minister Julia Klöckner is still primarily fighting to maintain subsidies for industrial agriculture. She’s hardly doing anything for the more climate-friendly organic farmers.

Climate change is becoming more and more obvious

Let’s take construction for example: Around one third of CO₂ emissions in this country are generated in the construction sector, be it through heating, cooling or the consumption of electricity. Energetically renovated houses protect the climate, which is why the Federal Government should actually be promoting the renovation and conversion of old buildings. But they aren’t. Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer, the man responsible for construction, is busy elsewhere. It seems very striking that, even though the CSU minister has raised 2.7 billion euros for child benefits for building in this legislature, he has hardly spoken about climate protection.

Or if you have a look at the transport sector: Compared to 1990, almost no progress has been made. Emissions in Germany are roughly at the same level as 29 years ago. CSU minister Andreas Scheuer never misses out on an opportunity to expose “patronising” and sanctions. But he won’t tell us how climate protection targets in the transport sector could be met by 2030. The work done by the expert commission, which was appointed by the government for more climate protection in transport (official name: National Platform Future of Mobility), has been sluggish since the minister made it clear internally what he wanted to read in the final report, and what not, says one participant. He wants to hear “positive news,” he says.

From the CDU/CSU’s point of view, it may seem obvious to ignore these concerns for the time being. Why would they want to be the first to shock the public with proposals that are both expensive and disturbing? They’d rather let the SPD explain the impending overall raise in prices. And if it did happen, the CDU/CSU would be the ones who opposed it. The CDU/CSU would rather rule pretending it wasn’t their doing.

On Monday this week Angela Merkel told the government spokesman that there was no question that she is in favour of meeting national climate protection targets by 2030. However, that the whole topic is also “very complex” and not easy to realise.

Which is very true, if you take into account that climate protection only gets more complex the longer you wait to implement it. To its own misfortune, the government has already lost a lot of time. Climate change is becoming more and more obvious. But because the public has been left in the dark about what will have to be done to protect the climate in the coming years for so long, most proposals and measures now seem like excessive, unannounced impositions.

Once again Angela Merkel does what she does best, promising reassuring continuity during the elections, while causing disturbing disruptions in parliament.

But what about the economy? To get a feel for what companies are expecting from the government, it is worth talking to someone like Jörg Mosolf. The 62-year-old runs one of the largest logistics companies in Europe. His business is directly affected by the change in transport. Mosolf transports brand-new cars from the manufacturers’ factories to the car dealerships. 1,000 of his vehicle transporters drive across the entire continent. Last year they covered almost 150 million kilometres, using diesel powered engines.

Whenever Germans discuss traffic and climate protection and what needs to change on the roads, in reality they are only talking about cars and the expansion of electric mobility. But what about trucks and freight transport?

Since 1990, the number of trucks on the roads has more than doubled, and according to internal government forecasts, emissions from heavy commercial vehicles will hardly fall in the coming years. In long-distance transport, electrically powered trucks are not a real alternative to today’s diesel trucks. Their batteries would be so large and so heavy that they wouldn’t be able to transport anything else. This is another reason why the BDI, for example, is in favour of the construction of overhead lines on motorways.

“I’m quite aware that the transport system is about to undergo previously unseen change,” says Jörg Mosolf. “But as an entrepreneur, I have to make investment decisions now. In order to do this, I need very clear conditions.”

Buying time just to kill time

Mr Mosolf buys 200 new trucks each year. He underlines the importance of testing alternative drives using gas or hydrogen now, to gain experience with them. How often does such a truck need repairs? How do the drivers cope with it? Which problems occur on a day to day basis or during long distance drives? Each vehicle transporter is driven for five years at Mosolf. Anything he buys today must pay for itself by 2024.

Something worth mentioning, though, is the fact that hydrogen trucks aren’t being serially produced yet. The manufacturer couldn’t even give Mr Mosolf a delivery date for the few gas-powered tractors that he had just ordered.

And then there’s the indecisive government policy which is confusing. Gas-powered trucks, says Mosolf, are currently exempt from the truck toll. But this is only until 2020. “Sometimes I get the impression that the government doesn’t even know what decision-making pressure we entrepreneurs are under,” he says.

If you listen to an entrepreneur like Jörg Mosolf and read the analyses on climate protection that are now coming from a trade association such as the BDI, you might get the impression that the country is divided into two time zones: one with an economy in need of quick decisions, already thinking ahead to the year 2030, and one where politicians are still struggling to clarify the consequences of the climate treaty of 2015.

Discussions on the costs and consequences of climate change are long-overdue. Who is going to tell millions of home owners that they will soon have to energetically refurbish their houses – and who is going to pay for it? How are we supposed to multiply the number of electric cars on the roads from 150,000 to ten million? What financial incentives are needed, and who is going to pay for the expansion of the charging stations? And what investments would German railways have to make, for example, so that they can soon carry a third more passengers?

Bits and pieces won’t suffice for a climate revolution. Andreas Scheuer wanted to prove that CO₂ emissions in the transport sector could also be reduced through digitalisation, and sent a man to the responsible commission for this purpose, head of the bitkom industry association, Bernhard Rohleder. He has now presented his results internally. These calculations were made available to the DIE ZEIT newspaper. The conclusion: The CO₂ reduction resulting from digitalisation would amount to just under ten percent.

Until now, the Minister of the Environment was held responsible when the government made mistakes concerning climate protection. This will be different in future. If a ministry fails to reach its target, the government will decide on an immediate program, which must be implemented within six months’ time. That’s what Schulze’s bill says. At the same time, a new seven-member committee of experts will monitor the policy of the Federal Government – an authority which, in a similar form, only the Ministry of Finance has had until now. This means that climate protection would be just as important as finance.

For now, the bill is “resting” at the Chancellor’s Office. If the CDU/CSU had it their way, it could “rest” there for a very long time. They’re buying time just to kill time. The SPD are placing their bets on a clause in the coalition agreement: It allows ministers to send laws independently to the other government departments in emergencies. This won’t get them a majority in the cabinet, but it will increase the pressure.

Until recently, it seemed unimaginable that the grand coalition could be endangered because of a blocked climate law. But now, everything seems possible.


source: DIE ZEIT