Merkel vs. Trump on Climate Change

The hypocrisy of a German Chancellor.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel used the final press conference of the G-20 summit held in her hometown of Hamburg to once again denounce the Trump administration's intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. "You are familiar with the American position,” Chancellor Merkel said. “You know that, unfortunately -- and I deplore this -- the United States of America left the climate agreement, or rather announced their intention to do so." She added that she was “gratified to note the other 19 members of G-20 say the Paris agreement is irreversible.”

President Trump did something that Chancellor Merkel and her fellow Paris Agreement boosters are not used to from an American president, after eight years of dealing with former President Barack Obama. President Trump was upfront in rejecting an agreement that unfairly penalized the workers of the country he was elected to serve.

Under the Paris Agreement, each country submitted legally non-binding plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with declared targets. Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry agreed to commit the U.S. to enact severe restrictions on the use of coal-fired power plants, among other initiatives. Such regulatory measures were viewed as key to meeting the Obama administration’s stated objective of cutting domestic greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. For all intents and purposes, “global citizen” Obama was willing to sacrifice American workers on the altar of the “global commons.”

President Trump saw the Obama plan as jeopardizing American jobs while other countries were making empty promises. He concluded that the Paris Agreement was little more than a feel-good document that would allow most countries of the world to pretend they are doing something beneficial for the environment. Meanwhile, the United States had ended up accepting a disproportionate share of the economic burden in lowering global carbon emissions.

Chancellor Merkel, for all her bluster about the imminent perils of climate change, made sure that her government is protecting the jobs of German workers in the coal industry. Germany’s “Climate Action Plan 2050” does not set a date for ending the country’s reliance on coal-fired plants.

“Coal remains central to Germany’s power system, providing 42 percent of gross power production in 2015 – 18 percent from hard coal and 24 percent from lignite,” according to a fact sheet issued by Clean Energy Wire on December 16, 2016. Lignite in particular is still mined fairly extensively, especially in the eastern part of Germany, where the coal miners are represented by a powerful union and are important constituents of the Social Democratic Party.

“We must succeed in establishing concrete perspectives for the future of the affected regions, before concrete decisions on the step-by-step withdrawal from the lignite industry can be taken,” the Germany’s climate action plan says.

Rainer Baake, Germany’s State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, explained, “When I look at the stakeholders’ positions, it seems to suggest that the last [coal] power station will likely go offline between 2040 and 2045.”

According to a ClimateWire article entitled “Can Germany Ditch Coal?,” published last year by Scientific American, “lignite causes the highest CO2 emissions per ton when burned, a third more than hard coal and three times as much as natural gas.”

Germany also advocates state support and tax incentives to help its fossil fuel industries.  

Influence Map issued a report in November 2016 entitled “Fossil Fuel Subsidies in the G7 and EU.” In its scorecard grading countries on their fossil fuel subsidy policies, Germany and the U.S. received the same score of D+.

President Trump is forthright about prioritizing the protection of American workers over sticking with lopsided commitments made under the Paris Agreement that unfairly disadvantage the U.S. economy. Chancellor Merkel and her government hide behind the Paris Agreement and platitudes about climate change, while making sure that they protect German workers in the coal industry.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt correctly called the chancellor out for her hypocrisy. He also correctly characterized the Paris Agreement as "pure symbolism" and “a bumper sticker.”

Chancellor Merkel has called climate change “one of the greatest, existential challenges facing humanity.” President Trump realizes that there are graver threats today from evil state and non-state actors. Freeloading on the United States for defense against such foreign enemies makes it easy for Chancellor Merkel to indulge in her distorted priorities.

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