The German Green Party is thriving and could form the next government after Chancellor Angela Merkel resigns in four months. The implications of a green victory for German energy policy would be profound, if not revolutionary. ” Mission improbableCould be another way to describe it.
The Greens’ carbon-neutral energy vision is laudable, very ambitious and probably unachievable: a rapid phase-out of coal, then natural gas, and no revival of the German nuclear industry, which Merkel condemned to death after the nuclear de Fukushima. disaster in Japan in 2011.
Much to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s distress, the party also opposes the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian gas through the Baltic Sea to Germany. You can be sure that Russian hackers and propagandists will be working overtime to undermine the German Greens ahead of the September 26 federal election, but that’s another story.
The Greens consider Germany, the largest economy in Europe and the leading industrial power, as a heavyweight in renewable energies. He could certainly achieve this goal. But at what cost? And over what period?
Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany’s center-right coalition government has ramped up its planned emissions cuts in a bid to regain environmental leadership in a country where climate change is high on voters’ concerns. The government was put into action by two factors.
The first was the relentless rise of the Greens, led by Annalena Baerbock, 40, member of the Bundestag (German parliament) since 2013 and with a master’s degree in public international law from the London School of Economics.
She has been called a natural political animal who enjoys building consensus and believes the Greens should get closer to mainstream politics to gain support. Under her, the Greens have consistently polled north of 20%, and a recent Forsa poll put them at 27% – three points ahead of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her sister Bavarian party, the Union Christian-social. The German press is full of stories about the possible partners of the post-election coalition of the Greens.
The second was a decision by the Constitutional Court at the end of April which declared that Germany’s emission reduction targets lacked ambition. The case was started by young environmental activists who argued that a failure to deal with the climate crisis quickly would compromise their freedom by pushing the burden of the cleanup onto the next generation – not OK, baby boomer.
The rise of the Greens and the court ruling pushed the government to act. The most significant change has been a legal commitment to reduce emissions by 65% from 1990 levels by 2030. The previous target was 55%. The bill also extends the deadline for reaching five-year net zero emissions, to 2045.
The Greens, if elected, would raise the bar. The biggie would kill the coal industry by 2030 instead of 2038. It won’t be easy to do in just nine years. Coal produced nearly 24% of Germany’s electricity in April, according to climate research group Ember (gas, wind, solar and nuclear made up the rest).
The Greens also want to raise the carbon tax to 60 € (88 dollars) per tonne by 2023, a little earlier than the last commitment; introduce a speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour on the highway to reduce fuel consumption (which would be like telling Americans they can’t own guns); and stop the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by 2030 instead of 2035.
And they have no plans to return to the nuclear game, although more than a few European countries, including the Netherlands, France, the UK, Poland and Romania, are considering building new reactors. to help them achieve their net zero goals. Nuclear power plants produce around 10% of German electricity, up from a quarter before Fukushima.
The German Greens came from the environmental and anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 1980s. They are more likely to order an alcohol-free Oktoberfest than a new nuclear program.
Some energy market watchers believe Germany could meet the Greens’ targets even if coal is phased out quickly and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is halted. But even believers know it won’t be easy. “They would need a very ambitious deployment of renewable energy,” said Pieter de Pous, senior coal policy adviser at E3G, a European think tank on climate change.
The costs could be mind-blowing. Decarbonizing the electricity sector doesn’t just mean getting rid of coal burners. The charging demands of millions of battery-powered cars could require a Herculean renewable energy effort. Hydrogen from the green variety (made from renewable energy) may need to be added to the mix. Smart grids should be built to handle the erratic supply of solar and wind power. Breakthroughs would be needed in battery storage technology.
If one country can do it, it is Germany, a wealthy country with world-class engineering talent. But the incredibly short energy transition deadlines likely to be imposed by the Greens, if they form the next government, are disheartening. Failure is a distinct possibility, and the whole world will watch.
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