After APECs confirmation of what had increasingly seemed inevitable – that the Copenhagen summit wouldn’t be the major breakthrough it was heralded to be – the chances of swift and effective action on climate change seem to have faded. But Europe has not been the leader on this issue its rhetoric would suggest. And the German example exemplifies this trend.

First, take Angela Merkel: she likes to point to Germany’s record as a leader on environmental technology and climate change policy; indeed, climate change featured prominently in her speech to the US Congress. Yet, at the same time Merkel seemed to constitute the major block against concrete EU-pledges of financial aid for climate change adaptation to developing countries at the EU summit at the end of October; and that even though the head of the German federal environmental agency (Bundesumweltamts) argues that Germany will need to spend €5 billion a year in adaptation funding to developing countries.

Another telling sign of ambiguity was her stance about attending the Copenhagen summit in person. Faced with opinion polls that show 90 percent of Germans in favour of her attending the summit, Merkel first announced she was going to attend the summit, only to have her press spokesman relativise this statement the next day, stating Merkel would only attend the summit if there were ‘chances for a significant breakthrough‘. As of this morning Merkel was once again set to attend the summit. A good sign, surely, but a week of changes to her decision can hardly be seen as a sign of unwavering commitment and belief.

The ambiguity about how much a priority climate change should be politically does not stop with Merkel. Dirk Niebel, development minister and member of the CDU’s liberal coalition partner FDP, drew widespread criticism by suggesting as early as last week that he thought a binding agreement at Copenhagen was unlikely to materialise – and placing any possible blame for this on large transitional economies like India, Brazil and Mexico. In retrospect Niebel’s perception of likely failure has been realistic, but statements like this always have a certain quality of political self-fulfillment. It certainly did not help Norbert Röttgen’s dramatic rhetorical attempts to convince other countries and the German public that ‘failure in Copenhagen is not an option‘. A new government always needs some time to speak with a unified voice and define priorities. But given the danger of outright failure in Copenhagen, Germany has certainly not played the proactive role that it could have. But it is definitely not alone in this failure.

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