Merkel’s Conservatives Suffer Climate Setback After Court Rebuke

Germany’s top court ruled that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s climate-protection efforts are falling short, a stinging setback for her conservative bloc just months before national elections.

The constitutional court in Karlsruhe on Thursday said the government was putting future generations at risk by delaying the bulk of planned cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions to after 2030. It now has until the end of next year to specify how it plans to limit global warming in subsequent years.

“For this target to be reached, the reductions still necessary after 2030 will have to be achieved with ever greater speed and urgency,” the court said in a statement. “These future obligations to reduce emissions have an impact on practically every type of freedom.”

The ruling set off a blame game in Merkel’s coalition, with cabinet members from her Christian Democrats and the junior Social Democrats saying the other party was at fault for the debacle. Unless the government acts fast, fixing the climate law could fall to the next government, which will likely include the Greens -- the strongest force in recent polls.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, a member of the CDU, called the ruling “historic.” Environment groups including the Fridays for Future movement and Greenpeace backed the challenge to the 2019 law.

“We’ve received a warning notice that we haven’t done enough in the past,” he told reporters in Berlin.

He defended his own initiatives, saying he made proposals last September for setting concrete annual reduction targets until reaching climate neutrality in 2050. On Twitter, he said he was blocked by Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the Social Democrats’ candidate for chancellor.

Hubertus Heil, the Social Democratic labor minister, fired back saying he “bitterly remembers” that Altmaier and others in the conservative bloc thwarted his party’s efforts. Svenja Schulze, the environment minister who is also from the SPD, said she will propose fresh legislation this summer.

The back-and-forth underscores the growing political tension ahead of September elections, which will determine who runs Europe’s largest economy after 16 years under Merkel.

With Germans already frustrated by the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the rebuke of its climate policy could provide fresh momentum to the Greens. The environmental party -- a distant sixth in the 2017 vote -- has emerged as a serious contender to take the chancellery for the first time.

“Climate protection protects our freedom and the freedom of our children and grandchildren,” Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ chancellor candidate, said on Twitter, calling for a quick overhaul of the law. “The next few years are crucial.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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