Climate target gives way in German effort to form government

Jan. 12, 2018
Climate sanctimony yields to economics as Germany’s political leaders struggle to form a government.

Climate sanctimony yields to economics as Germany’s political leaders struggle to form a government (OGJ, Dec. 4, 2017, p. 86).

After exploratory meetings that started Jan. 7 and ended with a 23-hr session, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party on Dec. 12 recommended formal coalition talks.

The meetings produced a 28-page paper said to be heavy with compromises on contentious issues like taxation and migration.

If the Social Democrats approve a new coalition-building effort, the paper will guide negotiations.

A coalition is necessary because neither the Christian Democrats nor the Social Democrats won a clear majority of Bundestag seats in elections last September.

The parties had been in coalition before then, but both lost ground as the populist Alternative for Germany Party leapt to third place in seats won.

Alarmed by the losses, the Social Democrats initially refused to renew ties to the Christian Democrats, which then tried to form a government with the Free Democrats and Greens.

That effort collapsed in November, requiring Merkel to work something out with the Social Democrats or face a choice she didn’t want to make between trying to govern solo and calling another election.

Just this first step toward political reconstruction required environmental compromise.

Early in the exploratory negotiations, the parties were reported to have agreed to scrap the government’s 2020 target for carbon dioxide emissions—a 40% reduction from 1990 levels.

For Merkel, whose high-mindedness on climate helps explain the surge of German populism, this represents major retreat. It also is a political expression of the economic pain felt by Germans forced to pay too much for energy.

At this stage, reprieve is partial. Negotiators are reported to have agreed to pursue the 40% emissions cut later in the 2020s, to retain a 55% emissions-cut target for 2030, and to pursue a 65% market share for renewable energy by 2030.

But give politics time. It always yields to economics. The only question is how fast.

(From the subscription area of, posted Jan. 12, 2018; author’s e-mail: [email protected])