Angela Merkel’s CDU (with their Bavarian sidekicks, the CSU) and the free-market FDP – the main winner of Germany’s federal elections – will form the next governing coalition. This is almost certainly bad news for German climate change policy – both domestically and on the international stage – but the policy setbacks in this area will arguably be more limited than what the FDP would prefer. Looking at international negotiations and energy policy as examples will show why.
1) International negotiations
Within the Grand Coalition that governed Germany for the past 4 years, Germany’s stance at international negotiations was never a hotly contested political terrain, for several reasons. Because Germany started important environmental measures earlier than other countries (and cleverly pushed for CO² emission-reduction targets to be based on 1990, before the heavily eastern German industry was mostly shut down) being progressive in contrast to international negotiating partners was never particularly hard, because it did not necessitate painful domestic policy measures. While this is changing to an extent, Germany, and indeed Europe, are not the crucial barriers to a post-Kyoto. And Angela Merkel, a former environment minister and early believer in the science behind climate change is unlikely to give up control over negotiations to an extent that would endanger a progressive German position.
Nevertheless, another danger is more real. Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), German’s environment minister had four years in which to build relationships with other negotiators and governments, get a feeling for the limits of other countries’ room for political maneouvre and learn the tricks of the trade. Given the lack of high-profile candidates in the area of environmental and climate change policy within the FDP and CDU/CSU, Gabriel successor will almost certainly struggle to make a similar impression. And, in addition, she or he will only have had three weeks at the most to get their head into an issue that is among the most complicated and tricky of any ever attempted to be dealt with by international negotiations.
2) Energy policy
While it is fair to say that climate change policy did not feature in the run-up to the federal elections at all, this is not true for energy policy. A long string of lies about nuclear energy was masterfully publicised by SPD environment minister Sigmar Gabriel. They included cover-ups about leaks in the site of Germany’s proposed site for the long-term storage of nuclear energy, high costs for cleaning up an alternative site borne by the tax-payer, the existance (and subsequent denial of this fact) of a strategy paper commissioned by an energy major and outlining communication strategies to promote nuclear energy in the election campaign (conclusion: keep quiet and point out nuclear energy’s green credentials). In addition to further accidents in a notorious north-German nuclear power plant and the emotive nature of many Germans’ thinking about nuclear energy made the CDU/CSUs and FDPs election pledge of ‘exiting-the-exit’ of nuclear energy (Ausstieg vom Ausstieg) one of the few clear dividing lines in an otherwise uneventful election campaign.
The high percentage of Germans who want to exit nuclear energy doesn’t seem to have helped the SPD very much. Nor is there a clear-cut impact of nuclear policy on climate change. Nuclear energy is clean (with regards to CO² emissions), and not extending the life of nuclear power plants would almost certainly have meant building more coal powered ones, even at the breakneck speed of German renewables growth. While there is a valid argument that being able to keep written-off nuclear plants running will decrease the pressure for large energy companies to invest in renewables, this would have been equally true for investment in coal that is already happening. If the new government sticks to the CDUs election pledges of not building new nuclear and taxing nuclear providers half the extra profits they make from extending their lifetime to invest this money in renewable energy, then this may not actually be bad news for preventing climate change. Yet this is doubtful. The traditional energy companies are not friends of renewables, and their deep pockets and lobbying prowess may mean they will push further, for government-subsidised new nuclear power stations and reductions in funding for renewables. If the market knows best, skepticism may prevail. On Monday morning after the election the shares of EON and RWE jumped, while those of renewable technology producers fell sharply…