German politicians fear 2020 climate goals are unreachable, but won't give up

German high speed train splits from cars on the autobahn headed towards Frankfurt at 300 km/hr (185 mph)
CC BY 2.0 Rob Dammers

In 2007, German politicians set a stretch goal: reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 40% by 2020, compared to 1990 levels.

This promoted aggressive programs and projects that have helped the Germans become leaders in progress towards controlling greenhouse gas emissions and implementing renewable energies and which have given their leader, Angela Merkel, the nickname „Klimakanzlerin“ (Climate Chancellor). Chancellor Merkel promised as recently as the campaigns last September that Germany would find a way to meet the 40% goal by 2020.

But yesterday, news leaked from coalition meetings between the conservative party (CDU) and the social democratic party (SDP) that the discussions have broached the idea that this goal must be given up -- that it is clear already that the 40% reduction cannot be achieved in that timeframe. Although the reports have not been confirmed, the clout Merkel lost in the last election could force her to back away from her promise.

The good news is that the politicians allegedly are not talking about giving up. They would aim to hit the 40% target still in the early years of the 2020s, and stay on track for the real goal: Germany has committed to a 55% reduction by 2030.

That goal is legally binding under a European-Union-wide negotiation. It constitutes Germany's required contribution towards the European pledge under the Paris Climate Agreement (in which the European Union committed to a 40% average reduction across all Member States by 2030).

Note that only the EU negotiations are legally binding on emissions goals for EU countries. In spite of misinformation spread ahead of Donald Trump's announcement that the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement, the Paris Agreement has no legal penalties for failure to meet emissions goals; it relies only on the knowledge that the consequences of failure are too dire to contemplate.

If there is a lesson to be learned, it is: start early, and start aggressively. Only because Germany has long set its sights on being good world citizens can they grant themselves a little slack while still staying on track to exceed the long-term goals so necessary to maintaining balance in the planet's ecosystems.

And let's hope the critics of Germany's "failure" see it for what it is: trying harder than everyone else. We should celebrate Germany's ongoing contributions to progress even as we embrace the fact that this failure will shame the politicians who could not implement their own goals into doing it right for the next round. Mistakes are the best way to learn.

German politicians fear 2020 climate goals are unreachable, but won't give up
Because they started setting aggressive goals early, it still leaves Germany ahead of schedule on Paris Climate Agreement commitments

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