Al Gore said Germany is losing its status as one of the global leaders in combatting climate change as the country continues to depend on burning coal for its energy production.
“Germany was a model for the rest of the world and a narrative took hold here in Germany that might be summarized as ‘Germany leads and no one follows,’” Gore told POLITICO in an interview, suggesting some Germans used the fact that many countries were lagging on climate policy as an excuse to do less themselves. “But that narrative is now out of date.”
The former U.S. vice president, who has become one of the world’s leading campaigners against global warming since leaving office, was in Germany to help train climate change activists.
Angela Merkel’s decision in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster to accelerate Germany’s withdrawal from nuclear energy, which accounted for about one-fifth of its electricity generation, has led the country to burn more coal to make up for the shortfall. The policy shift is the main reason Berlin will miss its 2020 emissions targets under the Kyoto climate accord. The government recently set up a special task force to explore how soon it could phase out coal-based electricity generation.
Berlin touts its planned shift to near total reliance on renewable energy sources by mid-century as a model for the world, but the project, known as the Energiewende (“energy transformation”), has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.
Gore said Germany’s backsliding, particularly on coal, means that other countries — including the Netherlands, France and the Scandinavian nations — are racing ahead of it.
“Germany is in danger of being left behind as more aggressive EU governments seize the lead,” he said. “The competitive advantages and job creation advantages of the sustainability revolution put Germany at risk of being left behind. Of course, the subsidies for coal in Germany are enormous.”
While Fukushima “threw a monkey wrench” into Germany’s energy strategy, Gore said Berlin could regain the climate initiative if it adopts more progressive climate policies. That’s especially true in the transport sector, he said, where German automakers have been slow to embrace electric vehicles.
“When Germany makes this shift in the transport sector, I think it has an excellent chance to restore its leadership position,” he said.