Germany’s climate policy: Back in the present
First the Berlin climate referendum is lost, then the traffic light softens their climate policy. What does this mean for the fight against global warming?
Last week, you can be calm about that, something changed. Not the climate crisis, it remains as threatening as it is. But dealing with her. And that could even be good news in the medium term. Climate policy has come back rather roughly from 2030 to the present, and it is fossil-dirty and quite contradictory.
What happened? And what are the consequences for climate policy?
There is a lack of support from below
It started last Sunday with the climate-neutral 2030 referendum in Berlin. And perhaps its most prominent supporters suspected something when they stood on the stage in front of the Brandenburg Gate the day before: “Realistic is what we make realistic!” called Luisa Neubauer into the audience. Alone: When looking realistically from the stage, she didn’t look at the 35,000 fellow campaigners who had been announced. But to around 1,500 people.
Then on Sunday the sobering result: The referendum failed to pass the quorum. Significantly less than the required 25 percent voted in favor of Berlin committing by law to becoming climate-neutral by 2030. What was more surprising than the low turnout was how many people left their homes and voted against the referendum. In the end, almost as many no votes were counted as yes votes.
Reason enough to be interested in this referendum for a moment outside of the RBB broadcasting area.
The referendum showed two things: First, the weakness of the climate movement. Excitement over the Last Generation has belied some in recent months, but the referendum lacked an activist base.
There have never been as many climate activists as there are today, and this is a contradiction. At the same time, being moved is currently not being expressed. Fridays for Future is dead, and the last generation is an avant-garde performance troupe for 150 percent. The movement needs a new goal that is radical enough and at the same time achievable. It was obviously not the referendum.
Who, for comparison, in the weeks leading up to 2021 Referendum on the expropriation of housing companies ran through Berlin, could hardly save himself from activists in purple safety vests who were promoting their goal.
But it would be unfair to blame the failure solely on the weakness of the movement. Because the referendum also has technical errors from which something can be learned about how climate policy does not work.
Radical goals are not enough
Take Berlin-Britz, for example, a district with 43,000 inhabitants outside the S-Bahn ring. In some polling stations, more than 70 percent voted against the referendum. There are: apartment blocks with satellite dishes on the balcony, allotments with garden gnomes, pink-painted single-family houses with medium-sized cars in the driveway. Driving instructors live here next to system administrators and taz editors. And there’s traffic, lots of traffic. If you walk through the streets and look in the front gardens, you will see an ugly little box in the garden in front of a few houses, a heat pump. But they are rare, about as rare as large SUVs.
So all in all it’s pretty average here, you might think. Or you see it like the education policy spokeswoman for the Green Group in the Berlin House of Representatives. She wrote on Twitter, that more people in the city center would have voted in favor of the referendum than in “where there is space for the SUV in their own garage”.
This is followed by all sorts of questions, for example when the Green politician last left her village in Kreuzberg, and whether she still believes that climate protection is most effective when citizens are morally reprimanded or yelled at.
It is somewhat absurd to assume that everyone who voted against the referendum and those who did not vote at all are against climate protection. One could also assume that they have considered the proposal and decided: It doesn’t work that way. Because myself left-wing politician criticized the lack of financing before the vote. Or because people are afraid of losing their car soon, but in their district the bus only runs every 30 minutes on Sundays if it doesn’t break down completely. Or that the conversion of their heating system ruins them.
For someone who needs a new car or heater today, the year 2030 is not the future but the present. This thing is supposed to last a while.
If the referendum leads to the realization that it is not enough to set radical goals for the future as long as the implementation in the present is unclear, then its failure would have been worth it.
Technology cannot save us
In any case, Robert Habeck seems to have understood that. After the eternal coalition committee, he spoke at the Appearance in the Markus Lanz talk show although not directly about the lost climate decision. But “the public debate” was “definitely included in the discussion”.
One can still consider the new compromises of the traffic light coalition on climate policy to be wrong, but after this week one cannot claim that the mean government and the spineless Greens would slow down the population, which would like to have radical climate policy so crazy. The Greens are a 14.8 percent party, and so far they have not necessarily been thanked at the ballot box for their ambitious climate policy.
You can therefore see the compromise nature of the traffic light decisions. The words are there in black and white, but it doesn’t take much imagination to mark the half-sentences in yellow and green.
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You, dear FDP, get your planning acceleration for some autobahns if we Greens pave them with photovoltaics. You get your heat pumps, dear Greens, if we are allowed to operate gas heaters with hydrogen. It’s the extension of the e-fuel principle, not just technically, but politically.
The coalition has decided, also in view of the resistance in the population, to deal with the climate crisis with two methods that have proven themselves in German politics: With compromises. And with technology. Can the expansion of renewables proceed so quickly that we can continue to live as before? The coalition says: Great, the bet stands.
Compromises can be made with the coalition partner, but not with the climate. And the more exceptions and motorway bridges are decided, the more radical the climate policy must be in the coming years. This is physics, not politics.
What is political though: someone has to pay for all the rails, hydrogen heating and heat pumps. In the traffic light paper there is only one on the income side: the truck forwarder, who is now supposed to pay a higher toll. In other words, costs that consumers will pay with every cucumber imported from Spain.
The traffic light has decided not to answer the social question for the time being, which has also proven its worth in Germany. “No one is left in the lurch,” the final paper says vaguely. The paper does not answer whether this means that every middle-class family will be subsidized for their heat pump as before and how this goes together with the debt brake.
Dare more populism
What does it mean that the climate crisis has now arrived in the present and “in the boiler room”, as the Time writes?
That she has to get out of there as soon as possible.
The climate crisis has nothing to do with private life. And that has nothing to do with convenience and the unwillingness to do without the car.
Anyone who is waiting for the majority to be in favor of uncomfortable climate protection out of reason and conviction also believes that people will continue to wear masks out of reason after a pandemic.
People get involved or vote because they hope to benefit their lives and those of those around them. That’s not reprehensible either.
If climate policy wants to be successful, it cannot continue to ignore the social question of how the costs are distributed, as the federal government is doing. The poorer half of German society is already surviving today almost to the limit of a maximum of 5.3 tons of CO2 per person – the federal government’s target for 2030.
Linking the social question with the climate question means: daring more populism. Climate taxes for the rich, that would be a start. That would be asking too much of a traffic light coalition. But what does the climate movement actually do?