Germany’s Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has indicated that the country will abandon its commitment to reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020, from a 1990 base level. In doing so he has won the ongoing clash with his own environmental minister Barbara Hendricks over energy policy, telling her that he will tolerate no further resistance to the change of direction, according to Der Speigel.
The target has been in doubt for some time, not least because Gabriel, a former environment minister himself and current minister for economic affairs and energy, is known to be supportive of the coal industry. According to the Environment Ministry, Germany would have to find a way of cutting emissions by between 62 and 100 million tonnes of CO2 every year for the next sixteen years in order to reach the target. Shutting down coal power stations would only contribute 40 million tonnes to that target.
“It’s clear that the [2020 CO2] target is no longer viable,” Gabriel said, adding: “We cannot exit from coal power overnight.” Earlier this year Gabriel told Spiegel: “It is an illusion to believe that Germany could simultaneously move away from both nuclear and coal energy”.
However Barbara Hendriks, a fellow member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP) along with Gabriel, has been battling him on the issue, insisting that meeting the target is merely a matter of willpower. In September she told Speigel: “We want to lead in the world [on emissions reduction]. We will not reach the 40 percent target if we do not take further action [including shutting coal plants].”
Gabriel, who is the current Chairman of the SDP has now put his foot down on the matter. In a confidential conversation, he is reported to have told her that he will not tolerate any more dissent over the dropped target. “It doesn’t work like that”, the labour leader is understood to have said.
But Hendriks is not the only dissenting voice. A number of eco-‘experts’ within the party have written a joint letter to Gabriel urging him not to u-turn on the targets. Erhard Eppler, Volker Hauff and Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker have all urged the SDP ministers within the coalition government not to abandon current climate targets. “This national target is important because the EU climate and energy targets for 2030 adopted at the end of October are, unfortunately, far too unambitious and rely on efficiency measures,” they have written.
An environmental spokesman for the parliamentary group, Mattias Miersch has said “It is fundamentally wrong to give the impression that we have abandoned the climate target,” adding that it was “a mistake to make present the issue as a choice between environment and economy”.
SDP deputy chair Ute Vogt was also critical, saying “We must remain visible in the discussion,” and that if the government does not increase target measures, “it will not be possible to reach our climate goals”.