Economics and politics - comment and analysis
10. June 2024 I Heiner Flassbeck I Climate change, Countries and Regions, General Politics

Greens down, this is an opportunity for reasonable and globally orientated climate policy

The Greens have crashed brutally in the European elections. In Germany, their share of the vote has almost halved and in France, at 5 per cent, it has even fallen to almost a third of the 2019 figure. Anyone who believes that this is the end of the previous type of commitment to climate policy in Europe is right; but anyone who believes that this is the end of an appropriate climate policy for Europe and the world is wrong.

The downfall of the Greens is a tremendous opportunity if European politics abandons the hectic activism that led to the Greens’ electoral defeat and unites all political forces in favour of a globally oriented strategy. What the purely nationally orientated Greens, especially in Germany, do not want to see is the global context and the compelling need to focus climate policy on the extraction and production of fossil fuels instead of fighting national battles on the demand side.

It has probably been ingrained in the green genes for ages that climate and environmental policy starts at home. It is firmly believed that the overall goal can only be achieved if each individual makes an effort and does their bit. It is precisely this spirit that decisively characterised the 2015 Paris Agreement. Each country commits to doing its part and in each country, individuals must organise their lives in such a way that the country as a whole achieves the goal. If citizens do not adapt voluntarily, they have to be forced to do so through a thousand different regulations. They are told which car to drive and which heating system to install.

However, as any enlightened person would know, this approach has failed miserably. Nothing has happened since 2015 that would lead us to believe that the global economy could be moved in the right direction in this way. But the Greens don’t want to admit it because they lack the intellect, imagination and political courage to embark on a truly promising path.

The Production Gap Report

Since 2017, the United Nations has published an annual report on the production gap, i.e. the gap between what would be necessary to restrict the extraction and production of fossil fuels at a global level and what is actually happening. The result is clear: the production of fossil fuels is progressing without visible delays and the gap between what would be necessary and what is happening is widening. The foreword to the 2023 report states:

„Governments are planning to produce, and the world is planning to consume, over double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than is consistent with the pathway to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. These plans throw the global energy transition into question. They throw humanity’s future into question. Governments must stop saying one thing and doing another, especially as it relates to the production and consumption of fossil fuels.”

In other words, some countries in the world can stand on their heads, they can maltreat their citizens as long as they like, they can make everyone feel guilty, it won’t do anything as long as oil, coal and gas continue to be extracted. All the fuels that are extracted from the earth will certainly disappear somewhere in the world in some incineration plant. Only if we succeed in convincing the producers of fossil fuels, of which there are around twenty in the world (including the USA as one of the largest), that they must reduce their production step by step, can a rational climate policy be initiated. Only if this shortage results in a permanent global price increase for these substances and thus a global pressure to adapt can we seriously discuss what national governments can do to make it easier for their citizens, and especially the poorest, to adapt.

COP 28 in 2023 has also failed

However, there is now a clear answer to the question of whether and when an attempt to get fossil fuel producers round the table to start negotiations on reducing production could be successful. At the last climate conference (COP 28) last December, the political initiative of many delegations to include a sentence in the final communiqué that would initiate such negotiations was indeed on the agenda. But this also failed miserably. As described here, the producer countries refused to even consider the possibility of reconsidering and adjusting their national interests in international negotiations. This means that it will take many years or even decades before any promising global action can be envisaged.

This means that any national climate policy has become pointless. The Greens stand for a policy that not only maltreats citizens with all kinds of measures and makes them feel permanently guilty, they also stand for a remarkable dishonesty when it comes to the prospects of success of their policies. After COP 28 at the latest, the German Greens should have admitted that their national or even European attempts to curb climate change are completely pointless because there will be no promising global agreement with the producers in the foreseeable future. But the greens preferred to remain silent and to pretend that it is only our lack of political will that is separating the world from a successful climate policy.

The failure of the Greens may now open the door to a climate policy that is not based on national illusions but on a realistic global strategy. Green actionism, which deludes itself and many well-meaning citizens into believing that we only have to chastise and restrict ourselves and then we will have done enough, whatever else is happening in the world, is not only useless, it is actually counterproductive. If, instead, all of our political energy were focussed on the question of how to persuade producers to leave fossil fuels in the ground, we might get a step further.

For many producers, it could be an attractive scenario to work together with the consumer countries on an agreement that promises producers high and, above all, stable yields for a few more years as fossil fuel prices rise, even if there is a clear horizon regarding the final phasing-out of production. However, the absolute prerequisite for this is that the USA, one of the largest producers and at the same time one of the largest consumers, is prepared to jump over the huge hurdle of its national fossil fuel interests. So far, there is not even the slightest chance of this happening in any of the political camps in the USA. Anyone who wants to seriously pursue climate policy in Europe must be prepared to face up to this confrontation. Anyone who does not have the courage to do so has no mandate for serious climate policy, neither with ten nor with 20 per cent.