German climate campaigners and opposition poured scorn on chancellor Angela Merkel’s government on Friday, describing its new climate change proposals as a “pointless pick and mix” of random political measures.
After an 18-hour, all-night negotiating marathon, Dr Merkel – anxious to regain her dented, decade-old “climate chancellor” crown – said measures to tax carbon dioxide and increase car fuel prices were a major step forward.
But, amid climate protests in more than 500 German cities and towns, even the chancellor conceded greater effort was needed for Europe’s industrial giant to hit its 2030 climate target to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 40 per cent compared to 1990 levels. It has already missed its promise to hit that target in 2020.
"Politics is about what is possible and we sounded out what was possible," said Dr Merkel before journalists on Friday. Warning that Germany was "today not living sustainably", she described Friday's proposals as a "compromise with a long-term effect".
The negotiations with her Social Democratic Party (SPD) junior partner turned into a month-long tug-of-war between coalition members determined not to disappoint their voter base.
Fridays for Future
While CDU leaders had an eye on business and Germany’s balanced budget, SPD leaders were anxious to push socially just climate measures.
SPD finance minister Olaf Scholz – currently running for the party leadership – said the package amounted to €54 billion in climate change measures by 2023 and presented a "unique chance" to modernise the German economy.
“Fridays for Future has shaken us awake,” he said.
Among the major proposals is a €10 per tonne tax on carbon dioxide from 2021, rising to €35 by 2025 when it will be supplemented by a national CO2 emissions-trading system.
Other headline measures will see VAT on train tickets drop from 19 to 7 per cent while aviation tax will be raised. Extra subsidies have been announced for electric cars and for homeowners who replace older oil burners.
Some economists suggested the plan is an ill-disguised stimulus package for the stalling German economy, pointing to promises to boost investment in climate-neutral transport infrastructure.
A survey released by German public broadcaster ARD on Friday showed that 63 per cent of German voters believe Berlin should prioritise climate protection.
That is reflected in the Green Party's soaring popularity, at one point displacing Dr Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the top of opinion polls.
‘Breakthrough’ vs ‘scandal’
"Pressure from the streets has worked," said Achim Wambach, president of the European Centre for Economic Research (ZEW).
But Germany’s climate campaigners were less sure their efforts have had a serious effect on politicians.
As they marched through the streets of Berlin, metres from where Dr Merkel presented her government’s proposals, German Fridays for Future leaders said the climate plan was “not a breakthrough but a scandal” – based on 10-year-old goals.
Europe’s biggest economy is currently in the middle of a transition away from fossil-fuel and nuclear energy to renewables.
But the opposition Green Party said the “slow, sloppy and non-committal” proposals had no detailed plans on how to meet these energy transition goals on time.
Its leaders were particularly scathing of a proposal to boost tax write-offs for car commuters.
"I am bitterly disappointed," said Annalena Baerbock, Green co-leader, saying that the Merkel-Scholz package amounted to an abandonment of Germany's commitments made in 2015.
Greenpeace Germany head Martin Kaiser agreed the measures left Germany "miles behind its obligations from the Paris climate agreement".
The liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) mocked what it called the Merkel administration's addiction to all-night summits, feeding breathless breakthroughs to waiting media.