Robert Habeck railed against the climate policies of previous governments in the Bundestag. He criticized the increasing dependence on Russian fossil fuels, a lack of diversification and non-compliance with climate policy goals. Right?
Recently in the Bundestag. It was about the legislative package presented by the traffic light government for the faster expansion of renewable energies. When the CDU/CSU criticized this, the Green Economics and Climate Minister lost his temper.
“When you have your picture taken in front of icebergs, but forget that icebergs melt. Getting off all sorts of things, rightly so, but forget that you have to build infrastructure for that. If you make climate policy decisions, but don’t back them up with measures, then you leave Germany out in the rain,” Robert Habeck raged in the Bundestag.
Habeck was not yet at the end of his Philippika and accused previous governments of further energy policy failures: “And we have seen that in the past: increasing dependence on Russian fossil fuels, a lack of diversification, non-compliance with climate policy goals, sluggish, even collapsed expansion of renewable energies.”
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So if the Germans have to freeze in winter because we can’t replace the lack of Russian gas supplies with renewable energies, then, as we can conclude from Habeck’s speech, that is primarily due to the climate policy of the federal governments since 2005. Since then, the Greens have been in the federal government in opposition.
In their criticism, however, the Greens are in the dilemma that their larger coalition partner SPD sat at the cabinet table in twelve of the sixteen years of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s (CDU) government, most recently with Olaf Scholz (SPD) as Vice Chancellor. And that the Social Democrats wrested a lot from the CDU/CSU during this time that did not correspond to the Union line. However, this affected – keywords: minimum wage and pension – primarily labor market and social policy.
In terms of energy policy, the SPD had by no means tried to push the CDU/CSU along; nor has it been slowed down by the Union. Rather, the partners in the grand coalition agreed on two points: Firstly, natural gas from Russia is a cheap raw material for industry and a cheap source of energy for everyone. Secondly, the competitiveness of the economy should not be put under too much strain by switching to renewable energies.
In their attempt to dump all the energy and climate policy failures of the past primarily on the CDU/CSU, Habeck and other Greens are omitting one thing: it was not they, but a CDU/FDP government of all people, which in 2011, under the impression of the reactor catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan, took a breathtaking turn and decided to phase out nuclear energy completely.
This was done less for ecological reasons than for party tactics. After Fukushima, public opinion was so clearly against electricity from nuclear reactors that the CDU and FDP feared for their chances in the upcoming state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Of course, the abrupt turnaround was of no use to black and yellow: both elections were lost.
The Greens do not criticize the quick, almost headless farewell to nuclear power, which is climate-friendly in terms of CO2 emissions, but they do criticize Germany’s one-sided dependence on Russian natural gas and Russian oil.
These imports have risen steadily since the 1970s: from zero to 55 percent of all gas imports in 2021. It is often overlooked that the decision to build the Nord Stream 1 pipeline was made shortly before the end of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s term in office, So in the final phase of red-green.
In 2015, the decision was made in favor of Nord Stream 2. What Chancellor Scholz – like Merkel before him – called a “private-sector project” until the Russian invasion of Ukraine was part of the energy policy of the grand coalition.
The coalition partners largely agreed to leave energy imports to the market, i.e. the German energy industry and the Russian state-owned company Gazprom.
The high point of the government’s policy of energy abstinence was the exchange of the German gas storage facility owned by BASF with Gazprom for drilling rights in Siberia. Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) saw nothing worthy of criticism in practically leaving this part of our vital infrastructure to the Kremlin.
In any case, neither the federal government nor the parties supporting it gave any thought to the increasing dependence on Russian supplies. Gas was considered more climate-friendly than coal. Gas-fired power plants also have the advantage that they can ramp up and down their capacities quickly. In this way, not only the base load in the network can be secured, but also peak loads. This should help with the expansion of renewable energies.
The decision in favor of Nord Stream 2 – and thus for an even greater dependence on Russian energy imports – was based on the agreement of the government and the economy that cheap Russian gas is good for economic development. In addition, for a transitional period, natural gas was to cover the additional demand for energy that was to be expected as a result of the phase-out of other fossil fuels. Last but not least, Russia was considered a reliable partner.
Nord Stream 2 was launched in 2015, a year after the illegal annexation of Crimea and the virtual secession of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk from Ukraine. But Berlin remained firmly convinced that Putin, like Brezhnev before him, would never turn off the gas tap in Germany.
One major difference was obviously overlooked: the old Soviet Union never attempted to expand its sphere of influence in Europe beyond the Iron Curtain to the West. Since the war in Georgia in 2008 at the latest, there has been no doubt about Putin’s imperialist tendencies to re-absorb as much of the old empire as possible.
In retrospect, Angela Merkel recently described her policy as follows: “Even during the Cold War there were reliable gas exports from the then Soviet Union to Western Europe. I didn’t believe in change through trade, but in connection through trade, with the second largest nuclear power in the world.” Against this background, according to the former Chancellor, she “considered Nord Stream 2 to be justifiable and not a stumbling block for tolerable development in Of Ukraine.”
“Connection through trade” was to prove to be a serious misjudgment. The Greens can point out that they were against Nord Stream 2 from the start and were the first to call for the construction to be stopped when Russian President Putin became increasingly aggressive towards Ukraine. They were also the first to request that the completed line not be commissioned,
The Greens’ concerns about Nord Stream 2, however, had less to do with concerns that Putin might one day use the gas as a weapon. The eco-party preferred to accelerate the energy transition instead of importing even more fossil fuels. The import of American fracking gas would not have further increased Germany’s dependence on Russia.
But the Greens have always been against gas produced in this way, if only for ecological reasons. The fact that Habeck is now negotiating with Qatar about the delivery of fracking gas is part of the change in energy policy triggered by Putin’s attack. Since then, the availability of energy, even from a green point of view, has become more important than the type of energy – apart from nuclear power.
Habeck was absolutely right with his critical remark that “if you get out of all sorts of things” you have to “build an infrastructure for it”. In fact, the black-red governments under Merkel were just as driven by Fukushima as they were by the protests of climate activists and, last but not least, by the media, most of which were completely geared towards “climate change”, above all the public institutions.
The result: the nuclear phase-out in 2011 was followed by the decision to phase out coal in 2018, accompanied by the strict rejection of fracking gas, regardless of whether it was produced in Germany or imported from the USA.
However, the “exits” were not followed by the corresponding “entries”—not in building lines to carry wind energy from north to south, not in insulating residential buildings, not in installing wind turbines, not in building nationwide infrastructure for charging E-cars, but not with the expansion of solar energy through the consistent use of public buildings.
One can argue about how sensible the individual measures might be. On the other hand, there is no dispute about the fact that the Merkel governments were much quicker when it came to getting out of renewable energy production than they were when they got started. It is also undisputed that this hasty farewell to nuclear power and coal was far too slow for Habeck’s Greens.
However, it was not just the energy policy of the Merkel era that was inconsistent. The Greens were and are inconsistent when it comes to the necessary infrastructure projects.
In the case of protests against wind turbines, it is not least green local politicians who protest against any environmental pollution on their doorstep. Baden-Württemberg, of all places, which has been governed by a green prime minister since 2011, has particularly little to show for wind power.
The climate policy balance of climate policy after sixteen years of Merkel looks like this: Germany is the only country to have phased out nuclear power and coal at the same time. That was basically green politics in its purest form.
The result: The share of renewable energies in the “gross final energy consumption” rose from 7.1 percent in 2005 to 19.2 percent in 2021. A considerable increase, but too small to be able to achieve the targeted climate neutrality by 2030 or 2035.
However, Merkel and her environment and economics ministers from the CDU, CSU and SPD have not subordinated everything to climate policy, as climate activists are demanding and which was also a priority for many Green politicians up until the Ukraine war.
The consistency with which Black-Yellow and Black-Red had relied on cheap Russian gas as a basis for growth and prosperity was missing when switching to an energy supply without fossil fuels.
Seen in this light, Robert Habeck is right. Only: The melting of the icebergs in Greenland, in front of which Merkel and her then Environment Minister Gabriel had their picture taken in a red partner outfit in 2007, would have continued even if Germany were already climate-neutral.
Because reality also means that a country that is responsible for less than two percent of global CO2 emissions cannot more or less save the climate on its own.