How Germany’s big parties line up on climate, mobility policy
Deadly floods have put the political focus back on climate change ahead of September's elections.
BERLIN — When it comes to tackling climate change, Germany’s leading political parties aren’t exactly on the same page.
While all four main parties focus on measures to slash the country’s carbon emissions, there are stark differences in how they plan to do so in practice, according to a POLITICO analysis of the manifestos of the Christian Democrats, the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats ahead of federal elections set for September 26.
The catastrophic floods that tore through parts of western Germany last week, killing at least 160 people, have pushed climate change way up the political agenda, with politicians recommitting to speeding up the fight against climate change and steering Europe’s largest economy to carbon neutrality.
According to POLITICO’s Poll of Polls election tracker, the latest aggregate figures put Angela Merkel’s conservatives (CDU) at 29 percent, the Greens at 18 percent and the Social Democrats at 16 percent. The Free Democrats are at 12 percent.
Here’s how the big four parties line up on climate policies:
The ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and sister party, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), came under fire after a court ruled in April that the government wasn’t moving quickly enough on slashing emissions. That led to a rethink on policies to combat global warming and a recalibration of national targets running to 2050.
The full manifesto is here.
Road to net zero: In a continuation of current government policy, the CDU/CSU want to slash CO2 emissions by 65 percent up to 2030 and by 88 percent by 2040. That would put Germany on track to becoming climate neutral by 2045 — five years ahead of the EU target.
To get there, the parties say they want to accelerate the construction of new wind and solar installations, including by simplifying planning laws, and ramp up sustainable biomass, hydropower and geothermal energy in rural areas. They also want to further develop the EU’s emissions trading scheme, with a long-term goal of setting up a global system.
Circular economy: Promoting innovations such as chemical recycling — which has repeatedly come under fire from green groups for being energy-intensive, as it requires large amounts of heat or pressure — or testing sponge city concepts to safely retain water, should also help Germany on its path toward carbon neutrality, the manifesto says.
Transport policy: The CDU/CSU are against a ban on diesel cars and the implementation of speed limits on the country’s highway network. As part of efforts to get millions of new electric cars on the road, the parties say drivers should be able to find a fast-charging point within 10 minutes, wherever they are. That will require dramatic improvements in available infrastructure.
Railways: To nudge travelers to use less polluting forms of transport, the parties want to improve rail links from German cities to Prague and Warsaw. They back new European train connections — both by night and day — but don’t spell out new investment programs or how they will shift traffic to rail.
Aviation: The CDU/CSU don’t commit to limiting flights as part of efforts to slash aviation emissions. They will, however, fund a research program on clean aviation and developing synthetic fuels for the sector. The parties also want to exempt flights that use alternative fuels from an aviation tax.
Urban mobility: To boost the uptake of clean urban mobility, the parties will push Park & Ride services and try to develop solar-powered charging stations for cars, e-scooters and e-bikes. Local authorities will be given more leeway to design bike lanes too, according to the manifesto.
The Greens hope to capitalize on Germany’s renewed focus on climate-change mitigating policies, but face sliding support in the polls. The hope is that a sense of urgency to address climate change following the deadly floods will make voters forget mistakes made in a rocky campaign that saw Greens leader Annalena Baerbock come under fire for evidence she dressed up her CV, among other missteps.
The full manifesto is here.
Road to net zero: The Greens want to cut emissions by 70 percent by 2030, and use only renewable energy sources by 2035. Their aim is to get the country climate neutral within two decades.
To formalize that ambition, the party wants to enshrine the Paris climate agreement targets in Germany’s constitution and introduce a check on all laws to make sure they’re compatible with environmental goals. It also calls for the country’s coal phaseout to be brought forward to 2030 instead of the currently mandated 2038.
To replace that lost power generating capacity, the party advocates dramatic increases in wind and solar power, including 1.5 million new solar roofs in the next four years.
Circular economy: The party wants to fight for an EU-wide deposit return scheme that would be applicable to bottles and cans. It wants to expand the country’s own deposit return scheme to mobile phones, tablets and energy-intensive battery packs. It also wants to ban plastic waste exports if the waste can’t be high-quality recycled — meaning it is not collected, sorted and managed properly enough for the recyclates to be reused as secondary raw materials — and seeks to earmark 10 percent of the government’s federal energy and climate fund for environmental protection.
Transport policy: The Greens want to ban the sale of new polluting cars from 2030 and make sure electric vehicles make up around 15 million of the country’s 48 million vehicle fleet by then. A truck toll based on CO2 emissions should be introduced to help clean up the haulage sector, according to the manifesto.
The party also backs a 30 kilometer per hour (km/h) speed limit in urban areas (with some exceptions) and a blanket 130 km/h speed limit on highways. While it says the construction of new roads should be reduced, it wants to accelerate the pace of building charging stations, especially in rural areas.
Railways: The Greens have pledged to invest an additional €100 billion in the country’s rail network by 2035, and want to ask regions to contribute more as part of efforts to shift traffic from road and air. The party is also keen to create new night train routes and revive abandoned lines.
Aviation: The Greens are clear there should be no return to unlimited growth for aviation. Short-haul flights should become obsolete by 2030, while there should be reductions in medium- and long-haul flights by then too. Airport subsidies should end as should any plans to further expand runway and terminal infrastructure.
The party also supports the introduction of a European kerosene tax, and says a national tax should be slapped on domestic flights in the meantime. The party has set out a detailed policy on boosting the use of electricity-based fuels from renewables in aviation to 10 percent by 2030; in the next decade that quota will rise further.
Urban mobility: The Greens want to double public transport use by 2030 and to better integrate bike lanes. They will also fund the purchase of clean buses and have pledged to expand and reactivate tram routes.
Since the April court ruling judged the government’s climate plans insufficient, the Social Democrats (SPD) — the coalition’s junior partner — have sought to position themselves as greener than Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc. Their focus is on shifting the country’s hulking manufacturing base through the climate transition.
The full manifesto is here.
Road to net zero: The SPD is sticking with the current government policy of cutting CO2 emissions by 65 percent by 2030 and 88 percent by 2040, with the aim of achieving climate neutrality by 2045. The party also says all electricity should come from renewable sources by 2040, with binding targets to achieve that goal.
Part of the deployment of additional solar power should happen via the construction of panels on public buildings and new commercial properties. The goal is to have solar panels on every supermarket, every school and every city hall, the party program states.
Circular economy: The SPD commits to holding manufacturers accountable for product design to ensure that all products are recyclable or reusable. Like the other main parties, it says it wants to protect forests and invest in reforestation.
Transport policy: Like the Greens, the SPD has come out in favor of a 130 km/h speed limit on federal highways and says there should be 15 million electric cars on the road by the end of the decade. To make sure lawmakers keep up with the pace of vehicle deployment, the party suggests a quarterly review on the rollout of new charging infrastructure.
The SPD is big on making sure Germany is a manufacturing hub for clean technologies, such as batteries and recycling plants for used cells. It also commits to funding research on hydrogen fuel cells to be used in heavy-duty vehicles as part of efforts to decarbonize freight transport and make Germany the leading country for hydrogen technologies by 2030.
Railways: The SPD wants rail travel within Europe to be cheaper and more attractive than flying, but it doesn’t commit to phasing out flights. Instead, the party wants to create a unified European scheduling system to align train timetables. The party also pledges to invest in the rail network, but doesn’t commit to an amount. Its manifesto does include a target for electrifying at least 75 percent of the rail network by 2030.
Aviation: The SPD is vague about decarbonizing other sectors, promising only to develop pilot projects for green ships and planes.
Urban mobility: The party wants everyone to have a connection to public transport close to home and says it will work up a strategy on how to make that happen. It also supports a €365 annual public transport ticket as part of efforts to boost ridership.
The liberal Free Democrats (FDP) are committed to the Paris climate deal and achieving zero emissions by 2050. But crucially, they want to leave the “path to this goal to the inventiveness of engineers, technicians and scientists” rather than mandating interim targets.
The full manifesto is here.
Road to net zero: The party wants to end subsidies for renewable energies and backs the development of synthetic fuels, which it says could boost decarbonization efforts alongside hydrogen. The manifesto also floats the idea of a European Hydrogen Union to help align EU policies.
Circular economy: The party is banking on research into the bioeconomy and wants to legalize chemical recycling.
Transport policy: The FDP is against introducing speed limits on highways or bans on polluting vehicles. It also wants an end to purchase premiums targeted at electric vehicles, instead arguing for subsidies to further boost the development of hydrogen and other alternative fuels.
The FDP also backs extending the EU’s emissions trading scheme to transport, as the European Commission proposed earlier this month as part of its Fit for 55 package.
Railways: The FDP wants to privatize Deutsche Bahn but leave the network under state control. The idea is that more competition will help drive down the cost of using railways for shifting goods and passengers.
Aviation: The FDP wants to abolish aviation taxes and put an end to night flight bans as part of policies designed to alleviate regulation on the sector. The party also supports long-stalled plans to create a single European airspace, something policymakers in Brussels have argued will increase efficiency.
Urban mobility: The party promises to work on segregating bike lanes from car lanes and abolish restrictions on car rental services and a minimum 50-kilometer distance between stops for long-distance bus operators. It also wants to promote autonomous vehicles, air taxis and Hyperloop networks.Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email email@example.com to request a complimentary trial.