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Comment: Climate Protection and Election Campaigns - a Contradiction?

In the US, the election campaign is coming to an end, in just under two weeks. A remarkable thing in the dirty fight between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is the fact that the topic of climate protection did not seem to even exist in the four public TV debates that matter. Neither show hosts nor on-site audiences asked one single question about it, like 'We really have more pressing matters...'

Coal power plant in Mehrum, Germany, with wind turbine in the foreground (Image: Crux via Wikimedia Commons)Coal power plant in Mehrum, Germany, with wind turbine in the foreground (Image: Crux via Wikimedia Commons)

So, do we?

A closer look at the latest figures illustrates that last year's Paris climate deal might have come too late already. September was the world's hottest, ever-recorded September, as NASA reports. For the 386th time in a row, the temperature of one month was above the average. The CO2 concentration in the earth's atmosphere reached a new peak value last year, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It is therefore urgently necessary to draw conclusions as quickly as possible.

CO2 emissions have to go down. For this, it is necessary to e.g. switch off dirty coal power stations. It is important to work on storage solutions as well as on sectoral networks. The subject of energy supply must penetrate the entire society and not be confined to specific areas. There is no alternative to this – the shattering of the European orbiter on Mars has just proved impressively that we just do not have a second planet up our sleeves in case it really should go wrong on earth.

However, a look at the role of such figures in the German election campaign is quite interesting, too. In Berlin, the German climate protection plan for 2050, which is to implement the Paris agreement, is currently under discussion. The election campaign is already in full swing here, because the Germans will go to the polls next year. And the struggle for majority and voters is raging if you take a closer look at the behavior of the CDU party in the past few days.

The draft climate protection plan submitted by Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (SPD) for 2050 was not well received by the coalition partner according to the paper that some top CDU politicians sent in response and which is available to some media such as Handelsblatt.

In their paper, the CDU ladies and gentlemen put up an impressive blindness against climate change - instead caring a lot for 'economy, prosperity and social cohesion in our country'.

First victim will be the sector cluster, which will not be further promoted in the future. Instead, it is stated to be necessary to think about long-term operation of coal-fired power plants with CCS technology, because "unsafe electricity or gas imports" might jeopardize the German republic.

A rogue who thinks evil. Sounds familiar? Right you are! It was only a few years ago, in another election campaign, when the then Federal Minister of the Environment and today's Head of Chancellory Peter Altmeier let the world know that devastating blackouts were about to afflict Germany if there was too much renewable electricity in the grid. This was a sad and clumsy attempt to favor the German nuclear industry and perhaps reverse the nuclear phase-out. Of course - as most of us have been knowing for quite a while -  reality is completely different: There is no other place in the world with as little power failures as Germany. Altmeier's dark prognosis will fortunately not change the shutdown of the last German nuclear reactor in 2022 either.

This time it is the coal-fired power stations to protect from being shut down for good by the worried CDU politicians. In addition, their paper constantly underlines the importance of market competition which is stated to be absolutely necessary to promote all technologies. Meaning: No extra funding for renewable energies anymore. Renewables will have to compete with the dirty coal plants, so let’s see who is cheaper at the end. This will keep the economy happy and bring a few more votes. Of course, our CDU guys forget to mention all the subsidies that have already been pumped into the fossil energy industry for decades – and still flow.

But stop? Is it really true that the economy is fully behind this course? An initiative from the Netherlands shows that the industry is perhaps faster in switching its patterns of thinking than the governing administration. There, 39 business enterprises have joined forces and call on their government to show more pace in the implementation of energy transition. This may be more expensive, but also more sustainable and ultimately wiser.

So, who has slept through the times? It has probably not yet occured to many especially right-winged politicians that the topic of climate protection and energy transition is playing a much more central role for more and more people. 85 per cent of the population in current polls speak up for more environmental protection. Don't they reckon how many voters this might be.

(Image on the right: turbine in the port of Hamburg, by Katrin Radtke)

Katrin Radtke

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