Energy Summit Merkel Nudges for Nuclear Power Comeback

At an energy summit in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel lays the foundations for the government's climate protection policies for the coming years. The meeting is seen as a push to reverse Germany's plan to phase out nuclear energy.


Opposing positions on nuclear power: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
AFP

Opposing positions on nuclear power: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Despite criticism from industry, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a federal energy summit on Tuesday in Berlin that she wouldn't budge from ambitious climate protection goals she set for Germany and the European Union in March.

"We can't just continue with business as usual," Merkel, of the conservative Christian Democrats, said describing climate protection as the most-important challenge of the 21st century.

Merkel is calling for a 3 percent annual increase in energy efficiency in Germany as well as a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 by up to 40 percent in comparison to 1990 levels.

One of the main ways the government wants to achieve the energy efficiency goal is through better energy savings in buildings. A government energy working group is calling for subsidies for building improvements -- like better insulation -- to be increased from €1.4 billion to €3.5 billion a year.

Germany also wants to increase the number of co-generation plants that are capable of delivering both electricity and heat to consumers, as well as adhering to the EU goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in cars from an average of 160 grams per kilometer to 120 grams.

Industry captains this week described Merkel's plans as overly ambitious and "unrealistic." But on Tuesday, Merkel rebutted: "I say it again that, if we take climate protection seriously as a factor, then in some places we have no option but to implement the reduction targets."

In order to achieve the government's goal, energy efficiency will have to be doubled by 2020 over 1990 levels. In addition, Germans will have to use 11 percent less electricity than they today. But Merkel said responsibility for meeting that goal should not just fall to industry and utility companies. Cars must also become more fuel-efficient, with more equipped to use greater amounts of biofuels; and homes must be better insulated to save energy. Additionally, renewable energies must play a far greater role in the country's energy mix.

'Like Driving a Car without a Seatbelt'

Industrialists were quick to criticize Merkel's position. The Federation of German Industry (BDI) stated that Merkel had raised the bar on climate protection to a record level, one that could not easily be planned for or measured. BDI President Jürgen Thumann said: "It's risky making structural decision on energy policy on this basis. It's like driving in the car without a seatbelt -- hoping that everything will work out all right."

Merkel, however, said the government would proceed in drafting legislation to ensure that its climate protection goals are achieved and that it would be brought to the cabinet for a decision in August. Economics Minister Michael Glos sought to reassure captains of industry, however, saying the government would ensure that the "burden for the consumers and the economy will be arranged in a way that jobs do not suffer from it."

Leading into Tuesday's meeting, industry executives criticized Merkel's plan for its heavy reliance on increasing energy efficiency and renewables. The German government is currently committed to a phase-out of nuclear energy by 2021, but executives argue that Merkel will be unable to come close to achieving her goals unless the government is willing to reverse its policy and extend the lifespan of the current nuclear power plants that are online by 20 years.

Merkel's government coalition partner, the Social Democrats, have remained steadfast in their insistence on maintaining the phase-out, but the chancellor is clearly seeking to sway public opinion towards nuclear power.

Earlier in the day, Economics Minister Glos said he didn't believe the dispute over nuclear power could be resolved before the next national elections in 2009. However, the government and industry leaders agreed Tuesday on a closing document that described three scenarios for meeting the government's climate change goals -- with a clear preference for nuclear energy, which the paper said could produce the highest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. The scenarios concluded that the cuts could be achieved without nuclear power, but that the latter would clearly be a less expensive option.

Merkel is reportedly paving the way to make a nuclear energy rennaissance part of her party's next election campaign if she is unable to sway the Social Democrats to abandon a 1999 deal to close the country's nuclear power plants negotiated between former chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his coalition partner, the Green Party.

dsl/spiegel/AP/Reuters

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