The World From Berlin 'Climate Chancellor' No More

Angela Merkel is facing withering criticism for remarks she made on Monday that seemed to back away from her earlier commitment to tackling climate change.

How bad does the economy have to get before German commentators will let the government get away with skirting environmental protection? Apparently we're not there yet.

German Prime Minister Angela Merkel set off a storm of indignation in the German media after making comments  on Monday to the tabloid Bild that the government will not apporove any new climate change goals that "endanger jobs or investments in Germany."

Merkel's comments come just before a planned EU summit in Brussels later this week where one of the items on the agenda will be a continent-wide package of targets and rules aimed at curbing CO2 emissions. Merkel is reportedly particularly concerned about a scheduled increase in fuel-efficiency standards for cars that many think could harm the German auto industry.

Now Merkel, long considered a supporter of environmental regulation, is being derided as a traitor and an opportunist by many in the environmentally-friendly German media. Business papers, which might normally be expected to approve of action intended to boost the economy, have not been kind in their assessment. Still, Merkel is able to rely on some support from right-wing media, which tend to be more skeptical of aggressive environmental protection.

The business newspaper Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Once upon a time there was a chancellor who didn't want to be dictated to by German business leaders. Once upon a time there was a chancellor who won international renown for protecting the climate and who philosophized with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about climate justice. Once upon a time there was a chancellor who let herself be photographed on a melting glacier in Greenland, causing the tabloids to proclaim her the 'climate chancellor.' That is all in the past."

"At the UN climate summit in the Polish city of Poznan, many government negotiators, scientists and representatives from environmental groups are shaking their heads at the new tone from Berlin. Journalists from developing countries are anxiously asking whether Germany has lost interest in climate change and climate justice."

"If, one day, people start to search out those historically responsible for out-of-control climate change, they might very well resort to photographic evidence: Merkel, smiling, with a shovel in her hand at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Neurath brown coal power plant in August 2006 (15 million tons of CO2 per year). Merkel, smiling, with a shovel in her hand at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Hamm black coal power plant in August 2008 (9 million tons of CO2 per year). The strategists of the CDU, who are banging their heads to come up with Merkel's campaign profile, can strike one item from their list. The profile of Merkel as the "climate chancellor" has worn away."

The business newspaper Handelsblatt writes:

"Right now some politicians want to emerge as heroes of the economy while tossing climate protection overboard. In consideration of the financial crisis, limits will be modified and schedules prolonged. This is regressive. Climate protection helps us to cope with the economic crisis, it doesn't worsen it. (Environmental) policy must not lose ground as a result of the decisions that will be made this week."

"(Climate protection) is the key to making Germany sustainable, which requires it to become a 'low-carbon society'. Countries that start now will be the winners of tomorrow. This also holds for the special circumstances of the crisis: we should stop fantasizing about consumer vouchers, and rather seek to make the country more energy-efficient -- that applies in equal measure to everyday life, industry, energy production and transportation."

"One example: In Germany there are 186,000 public buildings. At €3.5 billion, the cost to heat them is exorbitantly high. Investments in the insulation of schools, city halls, and tax offices would recoup itself after a few years and would create tens of thousands of jobs in the short-term. The government has essentially recognized the problem, but it should now solve it."

"In a couple of months we will see that the time is ripe for fundamental change, for a multi-billion euro kickstart. This will take place in the US. It would be a shame if Germany let its leading global role in energy efficiency slip from its hands so easily."

Judicious or Opportunistic?

The conservative newspaper Die Welt writes:

"If there is a single policy field in which till now Chancellor Angela Merkel has been able to transcend practically all partisan boundaries, it is environmental protection. Whether at the (2007) G8 summit in Heiligendamm or in the Arctic standing on melting ice -- Merkel has happily styled herself as a champion of global climate protection. If she is now announcing ahead of the coming EU summit that she wants to break some climate-change resolutions that jeopardize German jobs, this inevitably causes irritation. Many even smell a betrayal of a worthy cause."

"But beyond this do-gooder rhetoric, the world is more complicated. Surely it would be opportunistic to simply scrap yesterday's climate protection promises just because the financial and economic crises are putting pressure on the agenda. But it would be equally irresponsible to behave as if the situation has not changed in the preceding months. Whoever thinks that the economy, which is in the middle of the worst recession in decades, can, without hesitation, take on additional burdens costing billions overestimates its resilience."

"The Chancellor has come to the right conclusion if she is now urging us not to lose sight of jobs when talking about climate protection. It is judicious in a time of emgergency -- not simply a turncoat's tactical maneuver -- to seek to proect national interests in Brussels, for instance in the auto industry or in the energy sector."

The right-leaning Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The news is supposed to be the worst blow for saving the world's climate since (Environment Minister) Sigmar Gabriel revoked his godfatherhood for the poor polar bear Knut: the Chancellor is abandoning (the fight against) global warming. But the hopes of the Greens, wrapped in the garment of indignation, are not being totally fulfilled. Precisely because of her competitive situation, Ms. Merkel is not about to entirely cede environmental issues to the Greens and Social Democrats. The left could hardly have expected that the Chancellor would transform into a fundamentalist during these times of crisis, that reducing carbon dioxide emissions would mean everything and that securing German jobs would mean nothing. In the chorus of voices calling for subsidies, consumer vouchers and other help, it isn't the most unreasonable thing to first warn against additional burdens on businesses. Rules protecting the environment don't always have this impact. Still, with some of them, we risk entirely stalling an already sputtering motor."

Christopher Glazek, 2:30 CET

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