Last Sunday, the Germans voted in a historic election, deciding who will replace Chancellor Angela Merkel after her 16-year term.
Ultimately, the election of its ruling CDU for Chancellor Armin Laschet lost to Olaf Scholz of the SPD Social Democrats, and negotiations on a coalition that can command a majority are ongoing.
It may take weeks to know whether Scholz or Laschet will become the next chancellor.
But what does the SPD and Merkel’s exit, nicknamed “The Chancellor of the Climate”Does it mean for Germany’s climate leadership a part of Germany’s national brand under Merkel?
The ‘climate chancellor’
During her 16 years in office, Merkel lobbied other political parties to revise their green credentials by putting the environment at the center of German politics.
Still, many wondered if he lived up to his nickname ‘Climate Chancellor’.
The reality is that Merkel had more luck pushing the climate agenda abroad than at home. In Germany, he had no choice but to balance the competitive demands of the powerful automobile and coal industries.
Merkel’s strong reliance on science has been a big part of her success, from hosting the first COP climate summit to leading Germany through COVID-19.
However, fossil fuel addiction in Germany remained a blind spot for her.
Merkel’s critics accused her of ignoring the damaging environmental impacts of fossil fuels, and Germany’s auto sector was labeled an Achilles heel for the CDU, which has close ties to the major export industry.
Recently, Merkel announced that the auto industry was a “central part of the solution” to the climate problem, and the plan to see 1 million electric car (EV) charging points by 2030 was part of an attempt to reduce carbon emissions by half.
The Germans weren’t excited: a recent survey (in German) in 22 countries they found that Germans were the most skeptical about the viability of electric vehicles.
In terms of assimilation, Germany continues to lag behind Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Are Germans forced to choose between fossil fuels and electric vehicles? Not fortunately. The reputation of electric vehicles has been challenged due to the polluting battery manufacturing process.
While electric vehicles may not be the ultimate solution, when combined with a broader deployment of renewable energy such as biofuels, they can reduce carbon emissions.
Biofuels offer an alternative
Biofuels could offer a renewable alternative to fossil fuels for the German transport sector, the only industry that has failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since the 1990s. However, this progress has been further hampered by the European Union.
In 2018, the EU implemented a ban on palm oil for biodiesel, which ironically gives the highest yield per acre of any oilseed crop – up to nine times more than other crops such as rapeseed, sunflower and soybeans.
Critics labeled the ban as a protectionist measure promote the EU’s national biofuel industry, mainly European rapeseed which dominates the biofuel market.
Despite the association with deforestation, if produced sustainably, palm oil could trump the alternatives.
Last month, major palm oil producers announced their transition to net zero emissions, a move to increase sustainability in the sector.
Malaysia is an example of these investments paying off: with its national mandate Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil Program (MSPO), the country has certified around 90% of its palm oil.
Thus, for the past four years, Malaysia has seen a decrease in deforestation, due to the enforcement of the stricter law under the MSPO.
The green transition of the German transport sector will not be an easy road. However, cars have been a decisive issue for the German electorate, which has hampered the success of the Greens despite the party leading the polls in April.
About one in 50 Germans is employed in the automotive sector and experts fear that the switch to electric vehicles will cause unemployment.
After the fatal floods that hit Germany in July, climate change has been at the center of the national debate and remains the main concern of German voters. That said, there is a gap between green ideas and how Germans think.
Understanding this could explain why the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock failed to capitalize on the climate crisis, alienating some voters with an ambitious climate agenda, even though evidence shows that climate change has increased the risk of natural disasters in Europe.
However, the Greens are likely to play a key role in the next government, especially since the SPD expressed interest in joining forces.
The next government will involve a power-sharing agreement that will undoubtedly influence Germany’s climate leadership in the post-Merkel era.
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, Erlangen-Nüremberg.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism