As the high-level segment of the United Nations conference on climate change gets under way on Tuesday in Warsaw, it's an open question as to whether Germany can continue to be a leader on the issue. There is increasing concern among renewable energy industry groups and environmental organizations that the planned new grand coalition government will scale back the speed and funding of the promised switch to renewables, known as the Energiewende.
On Tuesday, a group of 85 organizations sent a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel and the top negotiators for both her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats' (SPD) urging German support for a European-wide target of a 55 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. They also encouraged domestic support for a climate act that would give investors the ability to plan for the long term.
"We want them to give clarity about the Energiewende and put that in a binding climate act," said Christoph Bals, the policy director of environmental organization Germanwatch.
Germany's role as a leader has already taken a hit during this conference. The country's emissions rose 1.8 percent last year despite headway in building renewable energy and a focus on the Energiewende. In the European Union as a whole, emissions were down 1.3 percent, according to the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
What's more, Germany's new coalition government has already agreed in negotiations to drastically cut the country's offshore wind target for the next 15 years. It's the kind of change that worries investors and sends a signal that renewables are risky. One major energy firm, DONG Energy, would not have invested in a number of offshore wind farms with the new, lower levels of support, according to BusinessGreen.
A member of the German delegation declined to comment on the letter and Peter Altmaier, Germany's Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety does not arrive in Warsaw until Wednesday.
Merkel Putting Off Tough Decisions
Another issue at the conference is Germany's level of support for fixing Europe's broken carbon trading program. Energy-heavy industries and coal-dependent countries like Poland, which ironically held a coal conference yesterday and today in Warsaw, have battled against a strong European Emissions Trading System (ETS). But while Germany has the ability to sway the argument, Merkel has largely been sitting on the sidelines during the last year, putting off the tough decisions until the new government takes shape.
Germany has set country targets for reduction of emissions of 40 percent by 2020, but is unlikely to achieve the goal without a strong emissions trading system. The ETS is crucial for meeting targets on emissions reductions by setting European limits on sectors like aviation, chemical producers and other energy-intensive industries such as steel and cement.
Now, with ministers arriving in Warsaw for the high-level segment of the talks, there is much concern that this crucial conference will not accomplish what is necessary among countries before Paris in 2015, when a legally binding agreement is expected.
Germany could help shift the conversation with strong agreements for a governmental direction on these topics in Berlin. However, Berlin may be moving away from a leadership position. It wouldn't be the only country to do so. Australia has been undercutting negotiations in Warsaw, with the prime minister moving to repeal the country's carbon tax. And with Japan announcing lower targets for emissions, it's clear there are few leaders among the wealthy countries here at the climate conference. As today's letter to Merkel noted, "in Warsaw, this leadership is lacking."