Commentary climate policy: we just have to want to

Merkel does not want to raise the climate target. Yet there is enough knowledge, experts and technology to achieve it – all it would take is an alliance.

Waste separation is all well and good – but it’s not enough to stop climate change Photo: unsplash/ Alfonso Nvarro

All Germans are waste separators, or so they feel. Almost two-thirds don’t want electricity from coal-fired power plants. And they think the German government is doing too little to achieve the Paris climate goals. The heat and people’s own contribution to climate change have recently been a topic of discussion on the beach or in the open-air swimming pool. The climate was also a dominant topic at the German government’s Citizens’ Consultation. And even Anne Will is talking about farmers in times of drought.

At the end of a summer that reminded everyone except the reality deniers of the AfD that global warming is the most pressing human problem, a window opened for a different policy. The conditions for a climate policy offensive by and in Germany are ideal. The German government, which resumed work this week, could now launch a comprehensive climate action plan.

But Angela Merkel resolutely slammed that window shut right away. In the ARD "summer interview," she refused to be more ambitious on climate policy. "At the moment," the chancellor said, she was "not so happy" about proposals from Brussels to raise the climate target from 40 to 45 percent. After all, many EU states were already failing to meet the targets set for 2020, the chancellor noted. As if that would explain her own inaction. As if this summer hadn’t happened.

The CDU/CSU, at least, prefers to deal with the question of whether it is more wrong to flirt with the Left Party or to imitate the AfD. And the leaders of the Social Democrats have come back from their summer vacation with the realization that their party name begins with an S.

No lobby

Climate has no lobby in any of the governing parties. The SPD cannot now be advised in good conscience to adopt climate protection as its brand core. But the rapid heating of the earth will not wait until the German parties are finished with their self-discovery.

In the wrangling between CDU and CSU, Union and SPD, government and opposition, industry and politics, Tuvalu is more likely to sink than a resolute climate policy will rise on the horizon. No less is required than immediate, courageous and, above all, joint action. We need the transformation of industrial society away from coal, oil and gas, a new founding era full of ideas for clean technologies, energies and products, as well as help for those already affected by climate change locally and globally.

The climate knows neither party lines nor borders. What we need is an alliance

But this departure will only work in a broad alliance of government, parties, institutions and the business community, beyond party and interest-political shadow games. Because the climate knows neither party lines nor borders.

The sociologist of technology Ortwin Renn postulates that systemic risks such as global overheating are permanently underestimated. Humans perceive sudden catastrophes much more intensively. It is therefore the task of society as a whole to raise awareness.

Now is the right time to do so

Companies need clear announcements about what they can produce in the future and under what circumstances; people can be convinced that living differently can mean not only doing without, but also making a profit. And those parts of society that do not want to be convinced must be regulated.

Now is the right time to do this. Each and every one can act in his or her own everyday life. It is also in the hands of one and all to generate the necessary political pressure on government and institutions. The German government could decide on a rapid exit from lignite, which the "Coal Commission" would have to cushion socially; it could not put the brakes on new CO2 limits for cars in Brussels.

In the reform of EU agricultural policy, it could push for more rather than less environmental and climate protection; it could finally get serious about energy-efficient buildings; it could free its own budget from environmentally harmful subsidies worth billions. In this way, Germany would live up to its responsibility as a driving force against global warming.

It is possible to give development a different direction. We have the knowledge, the experts, the technologies and also the money to do it. We just have to want it. The climate chancellor could show leadership and greatness with a climate alliance, as she has done with other major conflicts, the Ukraine crisis and the Iran negotiations – if only she wanted to. That would mean governing instead of reacting.

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