Connecting to COP26 – View from Berlin

Connecting to COP26 – the view from Berlin from Dr Sebastian Schwark, Partner and Head of Corporate Reputation at FleishmanHillard, Berlin.


In Germany, climate change is front and centre of political and public debate. With COP26 viewed as the last, best hope, the German public is obsessed with decarbonization and the net-zero transition, and as Chancellor Merkel departs after 16 years, consensus is emerging that her climate legacy is mediocre at best. As a result, all eyes are on the coalition negotiations for a new government. But can Germany become a global climate leader?

Objectively, the potential for climate leadership is certainly here, both in terms of industrial ingenuity and research depth.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for Klaus Hasselmann, emeritus of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, “for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming” demonstrated this forcefully.

Politically, however, German climate policy has resembled international climate diplomacy: Lots of talk, hypocritical appeals, and too little action.

While coalition negotiations are underway, Germany is unable to act forcefully. Merkel’s speech in Glasgow – widely seen as the usual “blah blah” – confirmed this.

With the participation of the Greens, however, the likely new government is expected to become much more ambitious on climate. The exploratory talks for a new government reiterated the objective of bringing Germany onto the 1.5 degree Celsius path, including an accelerated coal phase-out.

Whilst other European countries such as France see a leading role for nuclear power in the transition, Germany’s consensus remains that nuclear isn’t a solution to the climate crisis.

Other key questions in the national debate include contentious topics: A speed limit for the Autobahn? An ambitious phase-out date for internal combustion engines? How to further scale renewable energy and decarbonize industry?

German business and society agree that policymakers need to provide a legal framework that creates incentives and stability for net zero investments.

If done right, Germany could deliver on its aspirations as a climate leader and demonstrate a path for an advanced industrial economy to net zero. Looking at COP26 from Berlin, it seems clear that ambitious climate leadership is urgently needed, in international diplomacy as much as in domestic policy.

This ‘Connecting to COP26’ series is brought to you by the FleishmanHillard Cop26 Unit as part of the COP26 Daily Digest. For more information, please contact the FleishmanHillard COP26 team.

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