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Climate Policy Environment 21 March, 2019 4:00 pm   
Editorial staff

Merkel: Climate cabinet to ensure Climate Action Law comes before end of year

The new ‘climate cabinet’ consisting of ministers responsible for Germany’s emissions reduction record will help to make sure that the country introduces its much-awaited Climate Action Law still in 2019, Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised. Environment minister Svenja Schulze will be largely in charge of the cabinet that aims to resolve differences with her ministerial colleagues regarding financial and legal repsonsibilites for missing climate targets in sectors like transport or heating. Observers are hopeful that the new cross-ministry group will help Germany to make progress on difficult climate policy decisions but also say it shows that standard procedures no longer work.

Germany’s new climate cabinet will ensure that the much-anticipated Climate Action Law is introduced still this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a conference in Berlin. “We will introduce a Climate Action Law, or several laws, before the end of the year,” Merkel said, adding that the transport sector in particular needed a lot of attention. The chancellor will lead the new cabinet, with environment minister Svenja Schulze acting as its “commissioned chair,” according to a press release. The new cabinet would mean decisions on climate action are now taken “at the highest level,” bringing together the ministers in charge of all policy areas affected by emissions reduction to speed up decision making, the government said.

“For too long, environment ministers have taken sole responsibility within federal government for climate action in Germany,” Schulze said in an article published by Deutsche Welle. Now, the climate cabinet “is a clear sign that the whole government is responsible.” Finance minister Olaf Scholz said the cabinet would “make concrete proposals that will make a real difference.” Earlier this week, Merkel warned that “tough decisions” would have to be made soon to reduce emissions.

A spokesperson told Clean Energy Wire that Germany’s environment ministry (BMU) would prepare the climate cabinet’s work in close cooperation with Merkel’s chancellery. Merkel’s office would also call its meetings directly. “This usually provokes a more swift response than an invitation by the BMU alone,” the spokesperson said. He added that there was no clear timetable for the cabinet yet, but to introduce the Climate Action Law this year it would have to act fast. “In any case, there will still be plenty to talk about after 2019.”

Germany’s climate targets require the country to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. In its coalition treaty, the government promised to make the sector targets for the year 2030 laid out in the Climate Action Plan 2050 – a government policy programme – legally binding.

Alongside Schulze and Merkel, the cabinet will include finance minister Scholz, transport minister Andreas Scheuer, agriculture minister Julia Klöckner, economy minister Peter Altmaier, interior minister Horst Seehofer, government spokesman Steffen Seibert and chancellery chief Helge Braun. “Other members of the government may be invited if their field of expertise is relevant,” the official statement says.

Cabinet is act of good will but shows old mechanisms don’t work any longer

Besides stubbornly high emissions from transport, Germany will have to act fast to curb CO2 emissions in the buildings sector. A commission akin to Germany’s coal exit commission has already been set up for the transport sector. After making headlines due to intense dispute between its members, the group are expected to deliver first results by the end of March. A similar body for the buildings sector has not been set up.

Pressure on Germany to ramp up emissions reduction measures also comes from the EU. For the first time, Germany’s budget includes 300 million euros set aside to pay the financial penalties it is expected to incur by 2022, for failing to meet EU’s CO2 targets for sectors not covered by the emissions trading system (ETS), including buildings and transport. The exact sum will only be decided once Germany’s emissions have been calculated, which will take another two years, but it is virtually certain Germany will be in breach of emissions limits.

According to German daily Handelsblatt, the climate cabinet is a sign that government is willing to act “with greater determination” to cut emissions. However, it also shows that the government is unable, or unwilling, to resolve internal differences over climate policy through standard procedures.

According to Germany’s local utility association VKU, the cabinet should focus on the transport and buildings, introducing a carbon price for these sectors. The compromise over Germany’s coal exit, brokered by a government-appointed commission, has produced tangible results for the energy sector, the VKU said. “Now we also have to find instruments to reduce emissions from transport and heating,” said VKU head Katherina Reiche.

Green Party head Annalena Baerbock warned against the climate cabinet becoming a “talking shop” that stalls for time. Rather, it must introduce the Climate Action Law soon, together with binding mechanisms that ensure reduction targets are met. “It’s all on the table already,” she said on Twitter.

Source: Clean Energy Wire