Climate change will feature heavily in Germany’s election

But the difficult discussions will have to wait | Europe

6/19/2021 8:01:00 AM

The effects of climate change, potential or actual, on Germany’s waterways, forests and farms have become harder to ignore. Germany’s political parties are reacting accordingly

But the difficult discussions will have to wait | Europe

CDUrival, says the Greens threaten Germans’ sacred right to an annual jolly in Majorca. “People in the cities telling people in the countryside how to live—it’s crazy,” grumbles Jochen Ratzenberger, a Green-sceptic Rhineland winemaker. The Greens have slumped in polls.

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Their response is twofold. First, to tamp down excesses in their own ranks. At the Green congress the leadership saw off activists who wanted bolder promises to increase Germany’s new carbon price. Second, to provide a cheerful narrative for the climate struggle. Robert Habeck, who leads the party with Ms Baerbock, delivered a barnstorming speech linking climate action to heroic themes like freedom and justice. More prosaically, the Greens have a plan to redistribute dividends from carbon tariffs to Germany’s less well-off.

But voters distrust such schemes. Nor are they wild about making specific sacrifices, such as paying more for petrol or ditching meat. Germany must now reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 65% (from 1990 levels) by 2030, in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. This will have a dramatic impact on everything from retrofitting housing stock to the speed with which German petrolheads are weaned off the combustion engine. “Most people have no clue what it will take for Germany to achieve its goals,” says Anita Engels, a climate sociologist at Hamburg University. Few politicians seem inclined to tell them.

In theory, theCDU/CSU’s emphasis on market methods for climate action versus the Greens’ penchant for regulation could make for “healthy debate” in the campaign, reckons Ottmar Edenhofer, head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Some younger

CDU MPs, sniffing the political wind, would indeed like to take the fight to the Greens. But others doubt the wisdom of battling on Green turf, and they seem to have Mr Laschet’s ear. A leaked draft of theCDU’s imminent manifesto offered little detail on climate.

A new report by More in Common, an international group that works on social polarisation, finds a broad consensus across Germany for climate action, alongside concerns about fairness and a sense of personal helplessness. Two-thirds of Germans it polled want binding climate rules. “Politicians are threatening social cohesion by not acting,” says Laura-Kristine Krause, the outfit’s Germany director.

Should Mr Laschet and Ms Baerbock find themselves yoked in coalition after the election, as many expect, climate will be among the toughest elements of the negotiations. The new targets must be met, and the court satisfied. Postponing tricky conversations carries its own costs.

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