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Podcast "Voices": Merkel, the "Climate Chancellor" - good reputation, little behind?


Angela Merkel has long been considered the "climate chancellor". But has she ever delivered?

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Reporting on climate change is one of the major journalistic challenges of our time. The climate crisis is also one of the most important issues of humanity for SPIEGEL. For this reason, we support an international initiative that seeks to take a look this week: "Covering Climate Now" was initiated by the Columbia Journalism Review and the Canadian newspaper "The Nation", with more than 200 media companies around the world, including the Guardian, El País, La Repubblica, The Times of India, Bloomberg or Vanity Fair. SPIEGEL is dedicating the cover story of the current issue to the climate crisis this week and every day pays special attention to

Voice # 113 - Is Angela Merkel really the "Climate Chancellor"?

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Red winter jacket, melting glacier: In 2007, Angela Merkel staged in Greenland as "climate chancellor". Subsequently, the Chancellor pleads for meetings with foreign heads of state for better environmental protection, in Germany, the energy transition is her. And then?

In the new podcast episode we answer the question: What did Angela Merkel actually do for climate protection in her current term of office? Former Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks (SPD) says: quite a bit, but not always enough. Our colleague and Merkel observer Ralf Neukirch says: very little.

So how is Angela Merkel's climate policy explained? Which events determine your actions? And why is the German Chancellor now more committed to climate protection, twelve years after her visit to Greenland?

The podcast as a text to read

You want to read what's said in the podcast? Then you are right here.

The complete transcript

Podcast vote 113.mp3

[00:00:02] Matthias Kirsch Welcome to Stimmenfang, the political podcast of SPIEGEL ONLINE. I am Matthias Kirsch. In August 2007, more than twelve years ago, Angela Merkel was on a business trip to Greenland. At that time, one of the most famous photos of the Chancellor was created. Angela Merkel in a red winter jacket in front of a melting glacier.

[00:00:23] One- player At the end of her visit to Greenland, Chancellor Merkel announced that she would work harder for national and international climate protection. On a helicopter flight over the glaciers she herself saw how quickly the landscape changed.

[00:00:37] Matthias Kirsch At that time there was talk of the so-called "climate chancellor". The newspapers cite Merkel as saying, "Climate change is becoming visible here, and we need to go forward to stop what humanity is contributing to global warming." But what is it today, twelve years later? Is Angela Merkel still the climate chancellor? Will she still live up to this reputation?

[00:01:00] Before we answer these questions, I'd like to briefly introduce you to our new newscast, SPIEGEL Update. Every day you hear the most important news from the SPIEGEL editors. The SPIEGEL update can be heard on our website and in podcast apps like Apple Podcast or Spotify. If you have a Smart Speaker with Alexa or Google Assistant, just ask for the news from SPIEGEL.

[00:01:26] At the time of this visit to Greenland, more than twelve years ago, Angela Merkel, the so-called "climate chancellor", delivered this speech in the Bundestag:

[00:01:36] Angela Merkel (CDU) The leading industrialized countries need to move forward on this issue. Otherwise we will not be able to fight climate change.

[00:01:45] Matthias Kirsch The things the Chancellor talks about here are still almost word for word about her today. Here, for example, we hear Angela Merkel last week in the Bundestag:

[00:01:54] Angela Merkel (CDU) I arrange her so that I understand it as a challenge to humanity. A question of whether we are ready to do something as industrialized countries, that the impression of resource consumption that we have left behind; that these industrialized countries are also on the front line.

[00:02:14] Matthias Kirsch Of course, climate protection is not the only topic that Angela Merkel has dealt with. And yet you still wonder what she did in her time as Chancellor ever for climate protection. That's what I've been talking about with two people for this episode. On the one hand with the former Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks of the SPD, who knows Angela Merkel up close and has worked closely with her in terms of climate protection and on the other hand with my colleague Ralf Neukirch, who writes for the SPIEGEL on the Union parties and now sitting here with me in the studio. Hello Ralf.

[00:02:49] Ralf Neukirch Hello Matthias. Ralf, at the beginning it may be quite good to clarify one thing: Where does this picture of "climate chancellor" Angela Merkel actually come from?

[00:02:58] Ralf Neukirch I think that has two bases. One is that Angela Merkel is actually a woman who knows the subject. She was Minister of the Environment for four years. Even after her time as environment minister, she has repeatedly dealt with this topic. The second aspect is natural: she occasionally used this theme to stage herself as climate chancellor. It started with this famous trip to Greenland, where she stood in a red jacket then in front of the glaciers, where I was also there. That was, I believe the value of knowledge a journey that was not crazy high. You also knew what happened there before. But of course that was a beautiful picture and very symbolic. But these were always such singular events in which she then staged herself as climate chancellor and therefore this picture comes.

[00:03:46] Matthias Kirsch We just heard Angela Merkel in the Bundestag.

[00:03:49] Angela Merkel (CDU) If we drive climate protection, it will cost money. This money is well spent.

[00:03:56] Matthias Kirsch I also played this sound to Barbara Hendricks, who was also in the Bundestag and I wanted to know from her what she had in mind when she heard that.

[00:04:06] Barbara Hendricks (SPD) My impression was that she said that especially in the direction of the CDU / CSU faction, because within the Union faction there are still a lot of barriers and because people are still arguing about individual instruments. This must now be completed in the Climate Protection Act, that would be time. And it is indeed a human task and my impression is that Angela Merkel has also spoken very much in the direction of her own group.

[00:04:35] Matthias Kirsch Ralf, Barbara Hendricks, who was Minister of the Environment under Angela Merkel from 2013 to 2018, has a clear opinion here. The Chancellor would have addressed these words to her own group. Who exactly could you mean by that?

[00:04:49] Ralf Neukirch It is quite clear that the group has done nothing in terms of environmental protection in recent years. There is not even an environmental expert of the faction that could be named at all. The topic has not played any role in the group. Of course, this is not just the fault of the group, it is also the fault of Angela Merkel, because the issue has not played a role with her. I do not believe that this appeal was directed above all to the own faction. I believe that has meanwhile understood how politically explosive this topic is. I think it was also an appeal to the people outside, to the voters to just make it clear again: Here I am, Angela Merkel. I am for climate protection. Maybe again, to evoke in mind this image of the "Climate Chancellor". So just pretend again, as if that was an issue with which the Chancellor has been busy all the time. Which is not true, of course.

[00:05:41] Matthias Kirsch Nevertheless - when Barbara Hendricks talks about her appealing to the group and also talking about brakemen and giving in to the group. Who are the brakes for climate protection for the Chancellor?

[00:05:54] Ralf Neukirch This is traditionally the economic wing in the CDU. In fact, there are industries like the automotive industry, which have long resisted with their hands and feet and the Union has always found willing allies. And of course there are also people in the group who are - not without reason - worried that things could be similar here in Germany as in France; that there is, for example, a CO2 tax and massive protests against it. So, not all fears are out of thin air now. But it is above all this economic wing of the Union, which has so far always slowed down when it came to continue to advance in climate protection.

[00:06:30] Matthias Kirsch You have addressed the automotive industry. We will talk about that later in more detail. In the speech of Angela Merkel last week in the Bundestag there was an interjection. This interjection came from Jürgen Trittin, also former Minister of the Environment. And when Angela Merkel said ...:

[00:06:46] Angela Merkel (CDU) Doing nothing is not the alternative.

[00:06:49] Matthias Kirsch ... Jürgen Trittin said that Merkel would not have done anything long enough. That's what I talked about with Barbara Hendricks.

[00:06:55] Would you agree with this verdict?

[00:06:58] Barbara Hendricks (SPD) No, I would not agree - not completely, that would not be ok. Angela Merkel has always been very helpful in international climate protection policy. That's why it continues to have a good reputation worldwide for that matter. Sometimes I would have liked a bit more support on the part of the Chancellery in the domestic conflict.

[00:07:21] Matthias Kirsch Is that right? Are there two versions of Angela Merkel in terms of climate protection, one international and one national?

[00:07:28] Ralf Neukirch I think so. I think that does not have to contradict that, because of course an industrialized country like Germany has an interest in having the strictest possible international guidelines. Here, of course, there is a completely different pressure. There are completely different lobby organizations at work again. It's not just industry, it's also the unions - at least parts of the unions - who are worried that jobs could be lost. And here inside Angela Merkel is just elected. It is not chosen at international conferences but it is chosen here. And then she just has to make another compromise - or at least she thinks she has to make other compromises than international ones. And you have to say so fairly: Lange has worked so long. For a long time, the climate issue in elections played no role in Germany.

[00:08:09] Matthias Kirsch Let's take a small step back. We already talked about the interjection of Jürgen Trittin. Ralf, how do you evaluate his statement, Merkel would not have done anything long enough.

[00:08:19] Ralf Neukirch I think that describes the situation quite well. I found the most absurd situation lately, which was when Angela Merkel said a few weeks ago in the Union faction, so now it must be over with Pillepalle in climate protection. Now it really has to go first; and also in the parliamentary group - as I know from conversations - many have asked themselves, to whom is this really aimed? After all, Angela Merkel has governed in the last twelve years and if she complains now that there are failures, one has to move forward more decisively, then of course she judges her own reign. And that's why I think Jürgen Trittin has hit the mark with his interjection.

[00:08:54] Matthias Kirsch Is Angela Merkel a person who admits that to herself?

[00:08:58] Ralf Neukirch I think you only understand Angela Merkel's way of doing politics if you look at how she has always acted in various stages of her career. And then you see, she always reacts. It has rarely been that it has preceded any topic. But there was an event - mostly a crisis, but sometimes just political pressure, such as 2007 in the climate issue - and then she has drawn their conclusions.

[00:09:23] Matthias Kirsch But that also proves that Angela Merkel, if she wants to be able to enforce something very quickly. Why has that never worked for climate protection?

[00:09:33] Ralf Neukirch I think you have to look a bit like the chronology. First there was this appearance as a "Climate Chancellor", then broke the financial crisis over Germany and suddenly, of course, the most important issue was no longer climate, but economy, jobs, how do we get out of there. And that was also the topic to which Merkel then devoted herself exclusively.

[00:09:53] Matthias Kirsch One of these events that Angela Merkel reacted to was the nuclear accident in Fukushima in 2011.

[00:09:59] Angela Merkel (CDU) After the accident in Fukushima, which at any rate was inconceivable to me, we once again had to rethink the role of nuclear energy.

[00:10:09] Matthias Kirsch After that, the Chancellor launched the nuclear phase-out within a few days and she said that here:

[00:10:16] Angela Merkel (CDU) We believe that as a country, we can become a pioneer on the way to creating an age of renewable energy. And we can be the first industrial nation, big industrialized nation, to make such a transition to high-efficiency and renewable energies, with all the opportunities for exports, for development, for technology, for jobs therein.

[00:10:37] Matthias Kirsch Only two years later, in the 2013 coalition agreement, however, was the sentence: conventional power plants - lignite, hard coal, gas as part of the national energy mix - are indispensable for the foreseeable future. I also talked to Barbara Hendricks about it.

[00:10:54] If you did not have to say then at that time, coal exit that we have to tackle now quite concretely?

[00:11:00] Barbara Hendricks (SPD) In retrospect, yes, that's right. But, of course, the 2013 Coalition Agreement did not yet give the clear target that actually existed at the end of 2015 in Paris. Maybe just two years ago you could not really have imagined how that would go before with renewable energies, with storage technology and other things, where we are not everywhere yet where we need to go. In this respect, however, the coalition agreement 2013 has still been shaped quite a bit by old thinking.

[00:11:37] Matthias Kirsch Ralf, why did not Angela Merkel, because she did not act like she said before, yes, maybe even promised?

[00:11:43] Ralf Neukirch Of course there are always interest groups in politics. They are sometimes in the industry, but they are also in their own party. So of course, a country like North Rhine-Westphalia or countries in the East, where there is still mining, of course, have an interest in the fact that it goes on with the coal burning. However, one of the reasons was also the energy turnaround itself. It was designed in such a way that, although the renewable energies were expanded. But still - the base load can not be borne by renewable energies. It still has to be carried by other power plants. And when you switch off nuclear power plants, you automatically get that then just coal or gas power plants are available for it. Well, that was not all thought through until the end. And I think that's one of the reasons why it just turned up in the coalition agreement.

[00:12:30] Matthias Kirsch A consequence of this impulsive reaction of Angela Merkel, as you say?

[00:12:34] Ralf Neukirch Absolutely! And the amazing thing, I think yes, that impulsiveness is actually the last thing that is usually attributed to Angela Merkel. But I think if you look at their climate policy. That is really purely reactive and sometimes - as in the case of Fukushima also impulsive. And so often not very well thought out.

[00:12:52] Matthias Kirsch We've already talked about brakes and groups that can influence things. The automotive industry is one of them. Barbara Hendricks told me an anecdote from 2013:

[00:13:04] Barbara Hendricks (SPD) At the end of 2013, when the then government was reforming, the Chancellor intervened once again in Brussels to deal with the European Commission's proposal on CO2 emissions from automobiles. to mitigate something.

[00:13:19] Matthias Kirsch What role has the German economy generally played in the climate policy of Angela Merkel over the years?

[00:13:26] Ralf Neukirch Of course that plays a big role. That would probably have been the same with every Chancellor. I think it would be very difficult to politically enforce the energy transition if the cost to the German economy were so high that jobs were lost. That's always the big problem or worry that you have: climate change costs a lot. Who bears the costs? The industry then always says: If we carry them, then it just costs jobs. Each gram of CO2 more was then converted into lost jobs. I think that's just not true in the automotive industry. I believe that climate protection could have been an important engine of innovation, but of course that's an argument that politicians can hardly deny and politicians from other parties have not shut up. You can see that now with Kretschmann in Baden-Württemberg. Well, I would say that is the most important branch of industry, the most important industry, which played a rather inglorious role in climate policy.

[00:14:22] Matthias Kirsch There was a big turning point for many in climate issues. That was the Paris Agreement 2015 ...

[00:14:32] Einspieler (in French) The Paris Climate Agreement is approved.

[00:14:32] Matthias Kirsch ... when this big community of states has come together to conclude an agreement and set concrete goals. At that time Barbara Hendricks was involved as Minister of the Environment.

[00:14:43] Barbara Hendricks (SPD) That was certainly the most important moment in my life politically.

[00:14:49] Matthias Kirsch She then said that after Paris, ie when implementing the climate agreement at German level, her people from their own government stood on their feet.

[00:14:57] Barbara Hendricks (SPD) That was tough enough. That cost me almost the whole year; So from February 2016, when we proposed our measures in implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, to the decision in late November of the same year, that was a tough job. Especially in relation to the CDU / CSU faction. But I did not have it so easy with my then party chairman and Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, I will also frankly admit. The brakemen were not just in the Union faction.

[00:15:31] Matthias Kirsch But Barbara Hendricks also says that at the end of the day, Angela Merkel would have cut the knot. So she could do it, the crackdown. Does that mean that Angela Merkel simply did not want that in her chancellorship, at least in terms of climate protection?

[00:15:48] Ralf Neukirch Certainly Angela Merkel would have been able to enforce much more in her own ranks. I mean what you can enforce as Chancellor, you have seen in the refugee crisis. Two-thirds of her own people were against her, and she still went through her course. Of course, such a thing would have been necessary and possible in climate policy, of course.

[00:16:04] Matthias Kirsch Why did not she do that?

[00:16:06] Matthias Kirsch I guess, because she did not care so much. I think that's the kind of drive that only came in again when the issue of climate became politically relevant. When Fridays for Future started putting it on the political agenda. And as shown in elections - namely the soaring of the Greens - one can actually win elections with this climate issue. As Angela Merkel has probably realized that maybe she has something grind.

[00:16:31] Matthias Kirsch Now that you say that - Fridays for Future, the Greens, who are getting very good election results. What is to be said about Angela Merkel's current position in climate protection, as we heard in the Bundestag last week?

[00:16:47] Ralf Neukirch Well, as I said: Angela Merkel is a politician who, if she wants, can get things done. It is now difficult to say what it will enforce, because it will not be clear until next Friday. From my point of view, it is not excluded that something quite positive will come out, because I already have the feeling that now a majority has recognized in the CDU and in the SPD, that is an issue that we can no longer simply ignore , Of course, Angela Merkel has an advantage now. It does not have to be chosen again. She can now act freely. Whether she feels so free herself now, I do not know, but basically she could. She is the most popular politician in this country and she now has more power than any other politician. So if she wanted, she could do a lot. Whether this will happen in the end, I can not predict now.

[00:17:36] Matthias Kirsch At the beginning of this episode, the question was whether Angela Merkel is still the "climate chancellor". Barbara Hendricks said the following:

[00:17:44] Barbara Hendricks (SPD) I believe that Angela Merkel now wants to find her way back to the end of her term of office, which she herself set for herself - out of the responsibility she also sees. That this could have been better in between is not a question. But the other one in the red anorak was Sigmar Gabriel. They both then did not work with the same commitment in the following years, one must honestly say. But my impression is that the Chancellor will now actually take the necessary steps.

[00:18:22] Matthias Kirsch How do you see that, Ralf? Will Angela Merkel be remembered as "climate chancellor"?

[00:18:28] Ralf Neukirch I think the chances are there, if Angela Merkel would now get through that really to make the subject of the last two years of her term. Then she has a chance despite all the failures that have taken place so far. But I think Angela Merkel will stick to one point: If, for example, the economy collapses, the economy goes down, unemployment rises, then I'm sure that will be Angela Merkel's topic again. And there the climate theme will take a back seat. Well, the circumstances are more important than what Angela Merkel wants in the end for the question of whether Angela Merkel will remain climate chancellor.

[00:19:02] Matthias Kirsch And what happens in terms of climate protection, we learn when the current government submits its climate package. Thank you, Ralf.

[00:19:09] Ralf Neukirch With pleasure.

[00:19:11] Matthias Kirsch That was votes, the policy podcast of SPIEGEL ONLINE.

[00:19:15] At this point we would like to introduce our new newscast, SPIEGEL Update. Now you can hear three times a day, which is important - in the morning at 6 o'clock, at noon at 12 o'clock and in the evening at 18 o'clock. On Saturdays there will be a look back on the past week on Saturday, then on Sunday a preview of the coming week. You can now subscribe to SPIEGEL Update in your podcast app or listen directly to You can also hear our news on smart speakers like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Just say: "Alexa, play the news from SPIEGEL" or "Okay Google, play the news from SPIEGEL".

[00:19:53] The next episode of this podcast, as usual, will be available on SPIEGEL ONLINE, Spotify and all other podcast apps as of next Thursday. If you would like to send us feedback, please send us an email to or use our voicemail mailbox on 040 380 80 400. You can also send a WhatsApp message to the same number. Again: 040 380 80 400. This episode was produced by Rachelle Pouplier, Yasemin Yüksel and me, Matthias Kirsch. Thanks for the support to Sebastian Fischer, Johannes Kückens, Wiebke Rasmussen, Thorsten Rejzek and Matthias Streitz. The voice-casting music comes from Davide Russo.

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Source: spiegel

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