John Kerry can feel the heat. It’s a sunny mid-July day in Naples, Italy, and we’re sitting on the roof of his hotel overlooking the Mediterranean.
As tourists on the other side of the patio snap photos of Mount Vesuvius looming in the background, Kerry is warning about the fate of human life on earth. Kerry, 77, has been on the public stage for decades as a Senator, presidential candidate and U.S. Secretary of State and, on paper, his latest role representing the U.S. as President Biden’s climate envoy may look like a demotion. But Kerry rejects any question about why he’s taken this role. The fate of civilization is on the line, and he will do anything he can to help. “I’ve fought around war and peace, and that was life and death. This is already life and death–and in growing terms,” he says. “This is existential, and we need to behave like it.”
Despite the stifling heat and humidity, the lobby of the Excelsior hotel several stories below is brimming with life unthinkable just a few months before. Chatter in Arabic, Dutch and Japanese can all be detected among the cadre of diplomats who have descended here for a gathering of energy and climate ministers from the world’s biggest economies. It’s a key meeting in the yearlong slog to COP26, the U.N. climate conference set to take place in Glasgow in November. A few miles away, in the city center, thousands of protesters are marching and chanting, insistent that official proceedings aren’t moving fast enough. System change: another world is possible, one sign reads.
Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME
The stakes are existential, but the debates at the Excelsior can seem pedantic; in one conference room, negotiators are tussling over the wording of how countries should submit new climate plans. On the roof, I ask Kerry about the various conflicts that some fear might scuttle the COP26 talks–the U.S. rift with China, Europe’s plan to tax climate laggards and the demands from developing nations that their rich counterparts do more. Kerry takes each one in stride, responding to every question with optimism that reason will prevail. “I’ve always believed in diplomacy,” he says. “I believe in the ability of people to sit down and try to work reasonably together.” In the frenzied 24-plus hours of talks that followed, Kerry’s team sought to put that mantra into action, refusing to let the two-day conference end without an agreement. The results were mixed: the U.S. helped broker a key compromise to affirm the countries’ broad commitment to ambitious climate-fighting measures but could not win universal agreement on a specific commitment to phase out coal.
This year, the fate of our civilization is being determined in bland convention-center meeting spaces, slick corporate boardrooms and regal hotel ballrooms, and wherever you go, it’s hard to escape Kerry’s name. He comes up in conversations with the diplomats, legislators and business personalities on the inside as well as with the activists looking in. The dynamic is, in part, a testament to Kerry’s role as an elder statesman who is greeted with open arms by heads of government in foreign capitals. But it’s also a recognition that even after a Trump presidency that stomped on diplomacy and global norms, governments want the multilateral system to work–and for the U.S., which wrote the rules of the road in the aftermath of World War II, to do its part and remain an essential player.
On the road, Kerry has clearly boiled down the U.S. mission: his country wants to keep the world from surpassing 1.5?C of global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures have already risen 1.1?C, and scientists say meeting that goal requires dramatic action right now. The 1.5?C marker has come to represent the point where we are likely to face the worst effects of climate change, a reality often assessed in feet of sea-level rise, days of drought and the cost of storms. But the now decades-long failure to adequately address climate change has also placed the multilateral system and the U.S.’s place in it at risk. If nations don’t come together, not only do U.S. leadership and democratic governance suffer, but the resulting disorder–caused by those storms, droughts and so much more–will also force a transition to something new.
Kerry with French President Emmanuel Macron
Michel Euler–POOL/AFP/Getty Images
It’s hard to imagine someone more fitting to defend multilateralism than Kerry, a Vietnam veteran turned antiwar activist and son of a diplomat who has served at the highest levels of the U.S. government for decades. Kerry speaks carefully, not wanting to overstep his climate mandate, but understands the stakes. “We’re fighting for everything here,” he says. “It’s not just the climate–it’s fighting for a reasonable response by governance, for a reasonable relationship with our fellow citizens, or noncitizens, a reasonable relationship with people in the world.”
Over the past eight months, TIME has followed Kerry on that mission–first via telephone calls and virtual events and then, as vaccination became widespread and travel returned, in person on both sides of the Atlantic. Kerry makes a robust case for the constructive role he, his government and, indeed, good diplomacy have played in the lead-up to this year’s climate conference. But to measure Kerry’s success by the list of deals and announcements he brings to COP26 would be premature. The real test will come in the weeks and months to come–not just for Kerry but for the world.
On the late-night train from Geneva to Milan in late September, long after it has mostly cleared out, Kerry is taking a break from his briefing book and following each station stop intently, reflecting on the Alpine geography and noting with excitement when we cross the border into Italy. He offers me candy from his favorite and oft-visited chocolate shop in Geneva.
Kerry is an internationalist when many leaders are looking inward. He knows where to stop for chocolate in foreign cities, yes, but he also has a vision of solving problems through diplomacy and dealmaking. The son of a foreign service officer, he grew up on both sides of the Atlantic at a time when the U.S. was working to rebuild Europe, attending boarding school in Switzerland before returning to the U.S. for high school. “I grew up very used to other cultures, other countries, other points of view,” he tells me. “I didn’t view things exclusively through an American lens.”
From the beginning of his political career, Kerry found himself drawn to both environmental issues and foreign affairs–something he attributes to his transatlantic upbringing and a mother he says was devoted to green issues. And throughout his career, he has tried to prioritize climate change even as it remained on the broader political back burner. In 1992, he traveled to the Rio Earth Summit, the first U.N. climate meeting, to advocate for global climate solutions. (He had his first significant conversation with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry on the sidelines of the meeting, where she was impressed by his singing in her native Portuguese.) In the Senate, he worked publicly to build a bipartisan coalition to pass climate legislation that would have capped U.S. emissions while working behind the scenes on efforts to educate his colleagues on the urgency of climate science. “He came at this with a lot of personal determination,” says Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic Senator from Rhode Island.
Kerry took over as Secretary of State in 2013, at the beginning of President Obama’s second term. His tenure is perhaps best remembered for his role brokering the ill-fated Iran nuclear nonproliferation deal, but Kerry also takes particular pride in his work to center climate diplomacy in the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. Immediately upon taking office, Kerry began traveling the world, putting the issue on the agenda of heads of government rather than just environment ministers. Inside the department, he pushed every diplomat to have basic fluency on the issue and incorporated it into talking points for meetings large and small. “He basically said that every diplomat at the State Department was going to be a climate negotiator, on one level or another,” says Jon Finer, Kerry’s chief of staff at the time who now serves as the Deputy National Security Adviser.
All this helped lay the groundwork for the talks that would eventually yield the Paris Agreement, which sets up a framework for countries to reduce their emissions. Although the French hosts shepherded the deal into existence, the structure and details of the agreement were designed to meet the exigencies of U.S. politics. Kerry remained on the ground for most of the two-week conference, engaging directly in negotiations most Cabinet officials would leave to underlings. A wide range of officials ultimately deserve some credit for shaping the Paris deal, which was the result of intense negotiations between nearly 200 nations, but Kerry played a central role steering the talks and bringing the world to an agreement.
Kerry speaking at the Earthshot Prize award ceremony
Yui Mok–POOL/AFP/Getty Images
Kerry took his current job during some of the darkest hours of the ongoing pandemic and immediately faced a tough deadline. He spent three years rallying the world for the Paris talks; this time around he had only nine months before COP26. Kerry quickly adopted the conference organizers’ aim of creating a pathway to keep temperature rise to 1.5?C as his own. Scientists estimate that to have a good chance of meeting the 1.5?C goal, global emissions would need to be sliced in half by 2030, but a February report from the U.N. climate-change body found that the combined climate commitment from countries would barely slow emissions in the next decade. Almost immediately, Kerry turned his diplomatic focus to G-20 countries–which account for more than 80% of global GDP and emit 75% of global greenhouse gases. A September analysis from the World Resources Institute showed that action from this group alone could bring the world close to meeting the 1.5?C goal. “If the 20 major emitting countries [do] all that’s possible, then, Glasgow will be a success,” he told me in March. “If we do our jobs, all of us, hopefully, we can look at Glasgow and say this was a turning point.”
China, without question, was the most important G-20 nation to pursue. The country is the world’s largest emitter and second largest economy. And although China has committed to peaking and then declining its emissions by 2030, scientists say it needs to happen sooner to keep the world in line with the 1.5?C goal.
From his first months as Secretary of State under Obama, Kerry set out to build a bridge to China on climate while tensions festered on other matters, putting the issue at the center of the relationship. In 2014, in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama, with Kerry by his side, announced agenda-setting plans to cut emissions, effectively inviting other countries to get on the same page. On the back of Kerry’s climate diplomacy, Obama and Xi feted each other a year later at a state dinner in Washington–perhaps the zenith of relations between the two countries in recent years. In the early days of the Biden Administration, longtime watchers of international climate politics speculated about whether Kerry would try to repeat that effort. Kerry told me that from the outset he knew that wouldn’t be possible–the Trump presidency had spoiled the well, and, while less vociferous, Biden hasn’t sought to placate China. “It’s a very, very different time now,” Kerry says. “It’s a very different set of political circumstances.”
Instead, he sought a subtler form of rapprochement, traveling to China in April, becoming the first senior U.S. official to visit since the start of the pandemic. His message, he says, was to create a lane for climate collaboration amid the iciness. The reception was a sharp contrast from the jubilant atmosphere at the state dinner six years earlier. The two parties released a joint statement, agreeing to cooperate but not much more. Then in September, after making the 7,000-mile trip to Tianjin, Kerry encountered even more tense feelings. Despite the long journey, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi only met with him virtually, and said that climate collaboration could not be an “oasis” away from the other rifts in the relationship. “If the oasis is surrounded by desert, sooner or later the oasis will also become desert,” he said.
Nonetheless, Kerry remains optimistic. He has met with his counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, more than two dozen times and insists that China “remains essential” to the U.S. strategy. But his approach has necessarily been to give the country space. “They will not get pushed,” he says. “If you publicly are trying to hash this out, it’s going to work against you.”
Other countries have been more open to entreaties. In April, Kerry traveled to South Korea and made the case for ending international coal financing abroad; a few days later, at a U.S.-hosted climate summit, the South Korean government announced it would do just that. Japan followed a few weeks later. In September, Kerry sent a delegation to South Africa to work with allies to put together a financial package to wean the country off of coal. And Kerry’s joint initiative with the E.U. to push other nations to cut emissions from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, has drawn commitments from at least two dozen countries.
Read more: 2050: The Fight for Earth
Kerry’s job centers on engaging other countries, but he says that the immense role the private sector plays in global affairs makes corporate leaders an essential target. The private sector, he says, has the power to make or break the efforts of diplomats. “There’s no way to get this done unless the private sector buys in 100%,” he says.
So, when Kerry isn’t meeting with his official counterparts, he’s often working the room with CEOs and other executives, pushing them to join business coalitions and highlighting the companies that are making progress. In New York, in late September, Kerry took the stage at the Concordia Summit at the same time that world leaders were gathering a few blocks away for the U.N. General Assembly. The Concordia conference draws a mix of public officials, corporate executives and civil-society leaders, and Kerry’s session featured senior executives from LinkedIn and Apple, whom he peppered with questions as he announced the Glasgow Is Our Business initiative, which is designed to show corporate support for a robust outcome at COP26. A few weeks later, in Geneva, I watched as Kerry convened a meeting of more than two dozen companies–from DHL to the Boston Consulting Group–to discuss what he named the First Movers Coalition, whose members all commit to helping bring new clean technologies to market.
Kerry with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos
Dimitrios Kambouris–Bezos Earth Fund/Getty Images
“I’ve had several calls with him, he talked to our board … I’ve had some video conferences with him,” says Scott Kirby, the CEO of United Airlines, a member of the coalition. “The only way to solve this is a public-private partnership where like-minded people in the public arena and the private arena find real solutions.”
In his position, Kerry has traveled to more than a dozen countries and met with many more leaders from other countries and the private sector. It follows that energy is often the first word that comes to mind when I ask officials around the world about him. “He’s a force,” says Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency. That energy, combined with Kerry’s long-term commitment to the effort, has translated into a slew of constructive bonds–the glue that keeps diplomacy intact. Frans Timmermans, who leads climate policy in the E.U., said they share a “strong personal relationship” after years of working together. “There’s a base of trust, and that makes these complicated things easier,” he says.
“There’s just no substitute for the kind of deep, meaningful, decades-long relationships John brings to his role,” Wendy Sherman, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, told TIME. “It’s ultimately relationships like his that are critical to achieving diplomatic breakthroughs.”
But relationships can go only so far. Kerry has also had to combat persistent questions about the U.S.’s own climate commitments. Under Trump, the U.S. had reneged on a commitment to help finance climate efforts in developing countries. And although Biden in April proposed contributing $5.7 billion annually, much of the rest of the world rejected that as insufficient. In interview after interview, Kerry made it clear that he was pushing hard for Biden to double down on his commitment. “We made a promise back in Paris,” he said in July. “We have to live up to our promises.” After much wrangling, Biden announced in September that the U.S. would double its commitment.
More recently, attention has focused on whether the U.S. can actually meet its own emissions targets. In April, President Biden promised to cut emissions in half by 2030 when compared with 2005 levels, but the details remain fuzzy on how he plans to achieve it. The spending packages currently on Capitol Hill would likely take the U.S. close to those targets, but they remain up in the air.
“John Kerry is doing his best, but Congress may or may not fulfill the climate commitments,” says Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland who now works on climate issues as the chair of the Elders, an NGO led by prominent former officials. Whatever happens in Congress, Kerry is confronting a challenging reality. For three decades, U.S. engagement with international climate efforts has seesawed with each new Administration. No matter how much cachet Kerry has on the global stage, the world is unsure how much it can trust the U.S. and whether the system it helped establish is actually working. “Entirely outside of the substance of climate, Glasgow is a test case for whether American leadership is still a force to be reckoned with,” says Whitehouse, the Senator from Rhode Island. “If we can’t be a part of the solution now, and climate gets really out of hand, everybody in the world is going to look at what happened in the U.S.–and it’s not a good story.”
We arrive in Milan at nearly 11 at night. With one exception, Kerry and three of his advisers are the only people left in the sleepy train car. Kerry reaches for his old-school Orvis suitcase, worse for the wear after many of these trips, and lugs it through the grand train station to a waiting car. For the past few days, Milan has played host to a youth climate summit, bringing together young people from around the world to come up with their own demands about how to address climate change and then present them to ministers and senior government officials.
The next morning, Kerry joins his counterparts on the stage of the primary convention hall, surrounded by hundreds of youth climate activists seated in a semicircle surrounding the stage. Despite the gesture of open communication made by the international climate negotiators, an undercurrent of anger and dissatisfaction is palpable. Earlier that morning, youth protesters had interrupted Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and police had escorted them out outside. During the conference, a crowd of protesters chanted outside while others spray-painted graffiti on the convention hall. A few days prior, Greta Thunberg had summed up the sentiment from the same stage, calling climate action leading up to the talks a bunch of “blah blah blah”–empty rhetoric while the world burns.
Kerry addressing the White House press corps
Alex Wong–Getty Images
Facing the youth, Kerry didn’t turn defensive. If anything, he seemed to join in. With no notes and no teleprompter, for seven minutes he described the climate battle as “a fight for our lives,” condemned the “BS” of laggards and called out the “powerful interests that want to continue business as usual.” He said that developed countries are failing to help their poorer counterparts in financing the transition. He invoked the Holocaust to remind people that the world once said, “Never again,” and yet we are already we are letting millions die from air pollution, extreme heat and other climate-change-related tragedies. “This is an existential battle,” he says. “And for some people in the world it already is absolutely existential: they’re losing their lives.”
The next day, I asked Kerry whether he sees himself in the youth activists. After all, before he held any elected office, Kerry was a combat veteran turned antiwar activist who took to the streets to protest Vietnam. “I don’t feel separated from them at all,” he says. “I feel like the same person I was in terms of my activism, frustration, motivation. I would probably be sitting there now if I was 18 years old. I sort of feel like I’m playing the same role here. I’m pushing, trying to lay out what I believe is the basic truth about climate.”
If the stakes are existential for the planet, so too are the stakes for U.S. leadership on it and the entire multilateral system that organizes relations between countries and people. On multiple occasions, Kerry brings this up to me without my prompting. “This is what we built after World War II, a community of nations engaged with each other,” he told me in Naples. “And we’ve done lots to try to live up to that… We’ve pushed frontiers of solving problems. And here’s the biggest problem of all, and we have not pushed the frontier sufficiently at all.”
It’s hard to know exactly what comes next if the multilateral system doesn’t come together at this moment. The world has had a little taste of how climate change will hit us, and it will only get worse; rampant climate migration and increasingly deadly crises don’t bode well for international collaboration. In conversation, Kerry acknowledges that the President has asked him to look at the possibilities of a penalizing high-carbon imports, a turn from carrot-based multilateral engagement to a stick-based approach. But still he keeps vague any speculation about what failure would mean. “If we get into not acting,” he says, climate change is “going to eclipse a lot of these other” issues.
Kerry is known for his optimism. People often portray him as the hard-charging diplomat, determined to get the deal and certain in his ability to deliver. That personality trait is evident watching him in action and in conversation. But it’s just as clear, when listening to him grapple with the science, that he doesn’t see another option. “I think you have to be an optimist to continue the fight,” says David McKean, who served as Kerry’s chief of staff in the Senate and later in a senior role in the State Department under Kerry. “So, I think he’s an optimist, but first and foremost, I think he’s realist.”
When I leave the conference center in Milan, where I had just wrapped up what I knew would be my last conversation with Kerry for this story, I take a walk in the nearby park–a pristinely landscaped public space that abuts a shiny shopping center. Workers are scrubbing the graffiti in big red letters that adorn the space, but most of it remains legible. Climate extinction, one says. Crime scene, says another. In the center of a wide open space, on the wall of a little cement structure, COP26 bla bla bla is graffitied, impossible to miss.
Kerry has two weeks to show that talk still matters. —With reporting by Leslie Dickstein
More Must-Read Stories From TIME
Moderna Says New Vaccine for Omicron Variant May Be Ready in Early 2022
Bloomberg — Moderna Inc. Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said he suspects the new omicron coronavirus variant may elude current vaccines, and if so, a reformulated shot could be available early in the new year.”We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks,” Burton said Sunday on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”
“If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities,” he said. “The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna platform, is that we can move very fast,” he said.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company mobilized “hundreds” of staff early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., after news of the omicron variant spread.
Protection should still exist, depending on how long ago a person was vaccinated, and for now the best advice is to take one of the current Covid-19 vaccines, Burton said.
“If people are on the fence, and you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said. “This is a dangerous looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to fight it.”
The emergence of the omicron strain has seen countries rush to clamp down on travel from southern Africa. Fears that it could exacerbate a winter Covid surge in the northern hemisphere and undermine a global economic recovery sent a wave of risk aversion across global markets Friday that continued Sunday when the Middle East opened for the week.
Moderna said in a release on Friday that it was working rapidly to test the current vaccine against the omicron variant, and studying two booster candidates.
“Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern,” the company said. “The company has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to advance new candidates to clinical testing in 60 to 90 days.”
(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
More Must-Read Stories From TIME
Source Here: time.com
Europe’s Energy Crisis Is About to Get Worse As Winter Arrives
Bloomberg — Energy prices in Europe are repeatedly breaking records even before winter really kicks in, and one of the most damaging cost crunches in history is about to get worse as the temperature starts to drop.A super price spike in the U.K. last month forced some industrial companies to cut production and seek state aid, a harbinger for what could play out widely in Europe just as it contends with a resurgence of the coronavirus. For governments, it could mean tension with neighboring countries by moving to protect supplies. For households, it could mean being asked to use less energy or even plan for rolling blackouts.
The trouble is that any fix is unlikely to come from the supply side any time soon, with exporters Russia piping only what it has to and Qatar saying it’s producing what it can. The energy industry is instead faced with relying on “demand destruction,” said Fabian Roenningen, an analyst at Rysted Energy.
“We have seen it over the last couple of months already, and in many industries, it will most likely continue and even increase,” he said from Oslo. “It’s just not profitable to operate for a lot of the players in the current market conditions.”
The outlook adds to the sense of foreboding in Europe. The region is back at the epicenter of the pandemic again with Covid-19 cases surging and fears about a new variant identified in South Africa swirling the globe. Restrictions are being tightened in some countries, while household budgets are being squeezed by rampant inflation. On top of that, freezing weather could mean the lights going out. A return to lockdown like in Austria would help curb power demand, though few governments want to do that.
France, Europe’s second biggest economy, is particularly at risk. The possibility of a chill in January and February is causing concern for the nation’s grid operator. Availability at nuclear stations, the workhorse of the French power system, is low after the pandemic delayed the maintenance of some reactors, according to a report on Nov. 22.
Power prices there are the highest since 2012 as a cold blast creeps into France and is expected to take hold by Monday when workday demand starts to rise.
Last winter, the grid operator appealed to households to use less energy at peak times and activated some demand reduction contracts with manufacturers when things got really tight. The next step would be to reduce voltage across the network and then rolling blackouts of two hours per region as a last resort. All that would come ahead of a presidential election.
“If there’s a deep cold snap and there’s no wind, things could become tight given the lesser availability of nuclear plants and the recent closure of dispatchable generation assets using coal,” said Nicolas Goldberg, a senior manager in charge of energy at Colombus Consulting in Paris. “If it’s getting really cold and there’s no wind, it may become a problem.”
France is also a key exporter of electricity to neighboring countries, meaning that the effects of a crisis would reverberate in Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain. Maximum demand is expected to be 80.7 gigawatts on Monday, still some way off the record 102 gigawatts from February 2012.
The situation is already so dire this early in the winter season because of a blistering rally in natural gas prices. Stores of the fuel, used to heat homes and to generate electricity, are lower than usual and are being depleted quickly. Analysts have warned that gas stores could drop to zero this winter if cold weather boosts demand.
Rolling blackouts are a possibility, warned Jeremy Weir, chief executive officer of Trafigura Group, a Swiss commodity trading house on Nov. 16.
“If the weather gets cold in Europe there’s not going to be an easy supply solution, it’s going to need a demand solution,” said Adam Lewis, partner at trading house Hartree Partners LP.
On the supply side, what Russia does next will be key. President Vladimir Putin signaled he would help Europe with more supplies to stabilize the market, but while shipments have recovered after a slump at the start of November, they are low compared with last year. How much gas Russia sends to Europe in December remains an even bigger mystery.
The long-awaited start of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany from Russia would ease the continent’s energy crunch. The project is finished, but has run into regulatory hurdles and it’s unclear when flows will start.
Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, says it’s already producing gas at full capacity. The Gulf nation, which has low production costs thanks to an abundance of easy-to-extract fuel, has ordered six more LNG ships from South Korea on top of four tankers purchased from China in October.
If things get really bad, countries could resort to curbing sales of natural gas to other regions. An even more extreme scenario could see them halt flows of gas and power to one another, sparking political acrimony and hitting economies.
The European Union has what it calls solidarity principles that are supposed to prevent any state blocking exports of power or gas and leaving another member short, especially when it comes to supplies for households.
The solidarity, though, has never been tested in a wide-scale crisis and grid operators say that they’re allowed to stop or alter power flows through inter-country cables if they have security of supply issues. When the nicknamed “Beast from the East” hit at the end of February 2018, it was quite late into the heating season. This year, it’s likely that a less severe weather event could have a similar impact.
“It shows how exposed Europe’s power system is to the volatility in commodity prices,” said Roenningen in Oslo. “In the short term, there’s not a lot that can be done.”
(Updates with demand forecast in 10th paragraph.)
-With assistance from Francois De Beaupuy and Will Mathis.
To contact the author of this story:
Rachel Morison in London at email@example.com
(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.
More Must-Read Stories From TIME
How Germany’s New Government Plans to Be the Greenest One Yet
Among environmentalists, hopes have been running high for Germany’s new government. At elections this September, growing concern about climate change, boosted by the worst floods to hit the country in 500 years, helped the German Greens double their parliamentary seats.
Though the Greens’ performance wasn’t enough to win them the chancellorship, it gave them significant clout in coalition negotiations, which they promised to use to push through parts of their radical climate action program.
They have delivered–partly. On Wednesday the party unveiled a three-way coalition agreement with economic liberals the Free Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, whose leader, Olaf Scholz, will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor. The deal contains a raft of measures to slash Germany’s greenhouse emissions, which remain high compared to many European neighbours because of its heavily industrial economy and greater reliance on coal.
The measures include a commitment to massively expand renewable energies, turning over 2% of national territory to the cause; a target to phase out coal by 2030, eight years earlier than previously planned; and a plan to weaponize foreign policy to drive shifts on climate abroad.
The Greens won the right to appoint the foreign minister, which will be party co-leader and former chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, and the head of a “super ministry” for the economy and climate protection, which will be her co-leader Robert Habeck. They will also get to pick the ministers for agriculture and environmental conservation. “We are in charge of all key energy and climate ministries,” says Sven Giegold, a Green member of the European parliament, who was on the party’s core coalition negotiating team, “and we have a whole roadmap for a post-fossil future based on renewable energy.”
But some climate campaigners said they were frustrated by a lack of clarity on the timeline for Germany’s promised phase-out of fossil fuels. For example, many had hoped the agreement would set an end date for the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel that Germany and other European countries are increasingly using as a “bridge fuel” to reduce reliance on more-polluting coal and oil in the short-term. The European Environmental Bureau, a network of activist groups and NGOs, called the gas commitments “highly disappointing” and “a missed chance for Germany to give clear indications” to energy markets.
Gielgold says the new government is focused on ramping up renewables and their supporting technologies as fast as possible so that they can replace fossil fuels, rather than on the exact dates those fuels will leave the mix in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. “Honestly, it’s not the phasing out, but the phasing in, which will inspire others to act,” he said.
Here are the four key points in the German coalition’s plan on climate, and how they could affect the rest of the world:
Expanding renewable power
The coalition pledged to make the expansion of renewable energies “a central project” of its government. By 2030, the agreement says, 80% of Germany’s power generation will come from renewables–up from around 40% today. Experts say the target is comparable to the U.K.’s goal of reaching net zero on electricity generation by 2035, and the U.S.’ of hitting “100% carbon pollution-free electricity” by 2035.
To achieve it, the government plans to increase Germany’s solar capacity five-fold to 200GW, and off-shore wind more than four-fold to 40GW by 2030, with a mandate to accelerate designation of land for onshore wind power. The agreement also calls for a costly overhaul of Germany’s electricity grid geared towards solar, wind, and hydrogen.
Germany’s renewables push could be decisive for the rest of the E.U., restoring faltering cooperation on offshore wind and pressuring others to ramp up national spending in line with the bloc’s climate goals, according to Lisa Fischer, an energy transition expert at European climate think tank E3. “[The Greens] have sort of gone on the offensive: focusing on getting real ambition on renewables deployment, and perhaps they haven’t used their energy on putting in negative criteria on gas and coal as much,” Fischer says. “And the ambition level there is great. I do think it’s a game changer for Europe.”
Phasing out coal
Germany is the world’s fourth largest consumer of coal and has lagged far behind its western European neighbours on phasing it out, due to its large reserves of lignite coal, which it has historically relied upon to ensure its energy independence. Coal made up more than a quarter of German power production in the first half of 2021
The agreement says Germany will bring forward its coal exit from the 2038 date the previous government had set. “Ideally, this will be achieved by 2030,” it reads. Though some campaigners were frustrated by the lack of a firm commitment, energy experts say the worsening economic case for coal in Europe–due to E.U. regulations and market shifts– makes it likely the 2030 date will be met.
The accelerated timeline on coal will help pile pressure on Eastern and Central European countries who are aiming for later dates. Germany has historically wielded economic and political influence over those countries, but its message on coal has been muddled by its domestic reliance. “A 2030 German coal exit leaves nowhere to hide for Poland, Czechia and Bulgaria,” climate non-profit Ember said in a statement. “Those left behind will face high electricity prices, an uncompetitive economy, and increasing pressure to act.”
Cutting reliance on natural gas
Germany, like much of the rest of Europe, is highly reliant on natural gas for heating, a sector which makes up 12% of the E.U.’s carbon dioxide emissions. Countries face a costly drive to retrofit buildings to use renewable-powered electricity, or other renewable technologies, for heat.
The coalition agreement says that “all newly installed heating systems must be operated with 65% renewable energy by 2025”, but it is unclear how fast buildings will be expected to replace their systems. Meanwhile, an existing plan to build hydrogen-ready gas power plants, combined with the lack of an end date for natural gas use, leaves the door open to gas remaining part of electricity production for years to come.
Campaigners hope the German government will strengthen its gas targets next year, as part of a promised raft of new climate legislation, and as it participates in a long-awaited E.U. review of subsidies and taxes for the fuel.
Putting climate at the center of government
Some of the brightest lights in the coalition agreement come not from policies, but from the way that climate is positioned in the structure of the German government, with Green-leadership of “the traditionally important parts of German decision-making, like agriculture, foreign policy and the economy,” Fischer says.
In an interview with TIME before the September election, Baerbock said that her priority in coalition negotiations would be overhauling the current “totally stupid” situation where “every ministry does what they want and the environment ministry does the environment.” As foreign minister, Baerbock has pledged to align trade and aid with climate goals, and to use Germany’s leadership of the G7 in 2022 to encourage other wealthy countries to accelerate their investment in clean energy infrastructure.
But perhaps the most important ministry remains out of Green control. The Greens lost the battle to appoint the finance minister–one of the fiercest of the coalition negotiations–to the Free Democrats, whose leader Christian Linder will now take the post.
An influential industry lobby group said on Tuesday that the next government would need to spend some 860 billion euros by 2030 to trigger the emissions reductions it is calling for across the economy. It may be hard to extract that much from fiscal hawks the Free Democrats. Giegold, though, says that the consensus-based nature of German politics gives him confidence that the other two parties will stump up the money to meet their commitments. “Normally in Germany, we are dull, gray, and boring,” he says. “And that means we stick to what we have agreed.”
More Must-Read Stories From TIME
A&E1 month ago
A La Nina Winter Is Coming
A&E1 month ago
Juneau’s Title Chase Comes to an End Against East Anchorage
A&E1 month ago
Serving Neighbors, Supporting Families, Standing Witness
A&E1 month ago
Police Calls for Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021
Banking1 month ago
Commerce Canal Launches USPS Shipment Program With OSM Worldwide
Banking4 weeks ago
LogisticaForce™ Launches New Foodservice ECommerce Platform 4.0
Banking4 weeks ago
DesignRush Announces the Top App Design & Development Companies To…
Global News1 month ago
Barbados’ Prime Minister Has a Message for Rich Countries