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On September 26, the world saw the end of an era when the Social Democrats (SPD) won a narrow electoral victory over Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the German federal elections.
After 16 years in power, Merkel finally resigned. Last Wednesday, the leader of the SPD, Olaf Scholz, was sworn in as the new German chancellor. He was voted in by the German parliament, the Bundestag, where his ‘traffic light coalition’ has a sizable majority, and received a standing ovation.
The coalition agreement was announced after weeks of negotiations between the SPD, the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP). The announcement was followed by each party voting on the deal and after gaining member approval, coalition leaders sealed the deal last Tuesday in Berlin.
But the new government has some dark clouds on the horizon. When it comes to environmental protection, the Greens and the FDP collide. Both parties agree on the urgency of climate action, but their approaches they are incompatible.
A blind spot no longer
The Greens call for stricter environmental laws, even bans, to force change, while the pro-business FDP deals with market-based solutions that don’t burden German businesses.
Therefore, both parties will need to compromise on how to execute and finance environmental policies while working for a greener future.
Germany’s over-reliance on fossil fuels has long been a blind spot for the country’s political elite. But with the Greens in government, times are changing. The coalition agreement includes ambitious climate goals which were considered implausible during the Merkel era.
Although Merkel, described as the ‘Chancellor of Climate‘, led environmental efforts on the international stage, at home she was caught between a rock and a hard place like the mighty automotive and coal industries limited your domestic success. The German automobile sector in particular was seen as an Achilles heel for the CDU.
Now, the new government aims high: the agreement includes a movement to 80 percent renewable energy by the end of the decade, doubling the current target. With Germany still falling behind Many European countries when it comes to renewables, it will probably be a bumpy ride.
Furthermore, the coalition is ‘ideally’ throttle the exit of coal from the country in eight years, with the new target now set in 2030. Politicians have also promised have 15 million electric vehicles (EVs) on German roads by 2030.
This may not be as straightforward as expected. The Germans have proven to be among the more hesitant on the feasibility of electric vehicles.
Previously, both automakers and politicians cornered by unions seeking to protect the hundreds of thousands of Germans employed by the sector. Unions fear that a rapid transition to electric vehicles could result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
However, something must change. In terms of curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the German transport sector lags behind other industries – an outlier that has failed to achieve the reductions since 1990.
Deep divisions, finite time
How to decarbonize the German transport sector is still the subject of a heated debate. Biofuels offer an alternative that could ease the pain of transition.
A viable option comes from Malaysia, where Malaysia’s Sustainable Palm Oil Scheme (MSPO) has triumphed in certifying 93 percent of the country’s palm oil as sustainable, and the government issued sanctions for non-compliance.
This is positive news for biofuels and for countries like Germany that desperately need to address their addiction to fossil fuels with greener alternatives.
With the recent UN output gap report To show the extent to which governments are meeting their Paris Agreement goals, we must explore all avenues.
In the case of Germany, however, the FDP could hamper the decarbonisation process. The FDP has been seen as the party of ‘men who love fast cars‘: Critics of highway speed limits, reluctant to introduce government targets for the sector.
The divisions within the new coalition run deep. While the Greens are against polluting industries, the FDP hopes to free the same industries from strict regulations.
That said, the future looks hopeful. The Greens may have lost the battle for the finance minister, the most influential position aside from chancellor, which went to Christian Lindner of the FDP, but they have gained control of other key ministries.
Annalena Baerbock de los Verdes is the new Foreign Minister and the party’s co-leader, Robert Habeck, is the new Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economy and Climate. In total, the new cabinet includes seven ministers from the SPD, five Greens and four from the FDP. With the Greens occupying five ministerial roles, we can expect a stricter approach to climate policy.
The new governance of Europe’s strongest economy will undoubtedly influence the entire continent’s approach to climate change. The coming months will show whether the coalition parties can resolve their differences and whether Germany emerges as a climate leader.
Isabel Schatzschneider is an environmental activist and researcher specializing in food ethics, religious ethics and animal welfare. She is currently working as a Research Associate at the Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen-Nüremberg.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism