Battered by floods, will Germany go to extremes on decarbonization?

Will the latest disaster in Europe serve as an opportunity for Germany, which has international influence when it comes to tackling climate change, to further accelerate its efforts toward decarbonization?

Western Germany and Belgium were among the areas battered by heavy rains in mid-July, which caused flooding and claimed the lives of many people. The flooding sent shock waves through the public in Germany, where there has been relatively a small number of natural disasters so far.

Muddy water flowed into city centers like tsunami, preventing many people from evacuating. The tragedy was reportedly triggered because many local governments did not issue evacuation orders, despite warnings from Germany’s meteorological authorities. It cannot be denied that the country did not have a sufficient disaster preparedness system.

First and foremost, the German and local governments must strive to prevent a recurrence by reviewing river management, including levees, and how residents should evacuate in case of disaster.

This summer, Europe has also been hit by massive wildfires in addition to the flooding, fueling debate over whether global warming was behind these disasters.

When inspecting the flood-hit area, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed out the link between a series of incidents of extreme weather and global warming, saying, “We must move faster in the battle against climate change.”

It is surely too early to conclude on scientific grounds that global warming was the cause of the recent heavy rains and flooding. However, there is no doubt that climate change and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have become even more important for Germany, where public interest in these issues has been high.

In the general election in September, each party’s policies on climate change will be a major point of contention, along with their stance regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic. Merkel has made it clear that she will step down following the election, so the climate change issue will likely affect the administration of her successor.

At the moment, Merkel’s ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union, and its partner, the Christian Social Union, are leading in approval ratings, followed by the environmentalist Green party. The framework of a new coalition government will be determined depending on the results of the general election, but it is highly expected that the Greens will join the coalition.

As one of its campaign pledges, the Green party has included moving forward Germany’s emission reduction targets and phasing out coal-fired power plants as soon as possible. Anticipating that it will form a coalition government, the party also announced an emergency plan following the floods, which called for an increase in the budget for climate change measures.

There are worries that the Greens and other parties will propose extreme policies for decarbonization as they compete to win the hearts of voters.

Germany has sought a balance between environmental protection and industrial competitiveness when mapping out measures to cope with climate change. It is hoped that the country, while maintaining this basic stance, will lead constructive discussions toward the November session of the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 8, 2021.