Germany’s Energiewende, or transition from nuclear and fossil to renewable energy, used to be a model for the world and Angela Merkel was dubbed the ‘Climate Chancellor.’ No longer.
The Energiewende is stalling, and Merkel is increasingly seen as blocking progressive climate and environmental policies in Europe, such as stricter car emission controls, more ambitious EU-wide renewable energy targets and a carbon tax.
Amid ever more difficult permitting, flawed tender designs and a damaging turbine distance rule in the state of Bavaria, new wind installations fell to a 20-year-low of 134MW in the first quarter.
The bill for the paralysis over environmental issues arrived with the elections for a new European parliament on Sunday, in which the climate crisis was the most important factor for voters in Germany, according to surveys by public broadcaster ARD.
Voters abandoned Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), her Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party and their coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), in droves. The CDU/CSU fell to 28.9% – its worst showing in a Germany-wide elections since the war – while the SPD shrank to 15.8%, and for the first time was surpassed by the Greens, who almost doubled their vote to reach 20.5%.
The Greens also became the strongest party among voters under 45 years old, and triumphed in most of the country’s largest cities, such as Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and Leipzig, where they came top.
Merkel’s so-called ‘grand coalition’ is clearly losing the urban and the young, who in turn fear they are losing their future if current policies continue.
Among first-time voters up to age 24, the Greens are the only relevant party, with 34%, while the CDU/CSU got 11%, and all other parties less than 10%.
The CDU/CSU/SPD coalition should have seen it coming.
For months, the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement of striking school teenagers had staged mass protests with hundreds of thousand participating across Germany, but were often ridiculed by coalition parties, and also the neo-liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the far-right, climate crisis-denying Alternative for Germany (AfD)).
A week before the elections Rezo, a 26-year-old fast-talking 'You-tuber', published a video called “The destruction of the CDU” in which he goes to great lengths to lambast the government’s failure over climate policies, and urges rejection of the CDU/CSU, SPD and AfD. The video has been clicked by over 12 million people and is believed to have contributed to the coalition’s bad showing in the elections.
Rezo among other things points to a widespread scientific belief that the world has less than nine years to push emissions down sufficiently to stop temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, or see the climate enter an irreversible heating spiral that couldn’t even be stopped if all global emissions ceased at once.
The intention by Merkel’s government to phase out coal and lignite-based energy generation only by 2038 (after a recommendation by the so-called coal exit commission) in that context is seen as a cynical mistake by much of the young generation faced with the extinction of many species – possibly including humans – which the country’s 60-plus generations won’t be alive to see.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed either by young voters or the renewables sector that Merkel’s government with abrupt changes in support contributed to a demise of the one mighty German solar industry that cost tens of thousands of jobs without even blinking an eye, while the cabinet in Berlin just has proposed €40bn ($44.7bn) in aid to coal regions to soothe the slow coal exit, although far fewer people work in the coal industry than in renewables.
There is an upside.
With the CDU/CSU upset and the SPD in sheer panic, an increasing number of politicians will push for a revision of Germany’s lukewarm climate policies.
Merkel should listen to them and the young generation, and use this as a chance to become the Climate Chancellor once more.