Germany's Self-Contradictory Climate Attitudes

Germany with the UK has led the world in taking aggressive action on climate policy, cutting its greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 considerably more than the Kyoto Protocol required. (U.S. emissions, though dropping in the last decade, still are much higher than in 1990.) But now, as the going is getting rougher, German voters and opinion leaders seem confused about who is to blame and what to do.

Articles appearing the current issue of Die Zeit, probably the country most-read and most influential newspaper of political opinion and commentary, provide a couple of examples. In one, an interview with the leader of Germany's Green Party, Die Zeit aggressively asks what purpose the party still serves, now that the government has decided to ditch nuclear energy--one of the Green Party's main demands from the time of its birth three decades ago. And what's to differentiate it now from the Social Democratic Party, asks Die Zeit, a paper that tends to be aligned with the social-democratic center (with liberalism, in American political terms.).

What differentiates it, its leader Cem Oezdemir answers sharply, is that it does not automatically support any major development project just because it might create jobs, the way the socialists do. The Greens are squarely focused on long-term sustainability, Oezdemir claims, in a way no other German party is.

What's striking about that exchange is that, despite its pointedness, Die Zeit did not ask how Oezdemir and the Greens feel about the near-certain  prospect of Germany's greenhouse gas emissions rising sharply, as a result of the "atomic exit."

Instead, Die Zeit addresses that question in a separate interview to the German federal government's Minister of the Environment  Jochen Flasbarth, as if the poor outlook for greenhouse gas reduction were the government's fault. (Until Fukushima, the governing conservative coalition sought to negotiate "an exit from the nuclear exit.") Categorically, Die Zeit takes Flasbarth to task for refusing to concede that the country's 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goals are now unachievable.

Admittedly, Flasbarth's answer is lame: "It's time you accepted and understood emissions trading. Whatever excess emissions we generate will be saved elsewhere in Europe." But what's most striking here, as in the interview with Oezdemir, is what Die Zeit did not ask. What is Germany, whose climate record on the whole is exemplary, do do about countries whose records are woefully deficient? Should it impose sanctions on a country like Canada, whose emissions are far, far higher than in 1990 and now wishes to develop its oil sands willy nilly, and export its product to the United States, whose record also leaves a lot to be desired?

Merkel is personally close to Obama, and the current German government is not going to rock relations with its North American friends. But it would have been interesting to know what the Green Party leader had to say. Oezdemir (photo) was the first German of Turkish descent to be elected to parliament, and he makes it crystal clear in the interview with Die Zeit that his goal is to get his party into a governing coalition government. A decade ago he had to retreat from the leadership after the disclosure that he had pocketed frequent flier miles accumulated in the course of public business. But he has climbed back and now appears to be firmly in the saddle.

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