The frontrunner to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor has warned the EU that joint greenhouse gas targets must not come at the cost of diminishing the prowess of German industry, signalling a reluctance to join carbon reduction schemes planned in other European countries.
“Europe has to be modernised: we have to implement the Green Deal together but still remain successful with our industries,” Armin Laschet, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) leader, told the Guardian in an interview.
“That’s the part that they don’t say out quite so loud in Brussels, but it’s what we expect in Germany: that we do everything to modernise our industries. There are many member states that are no longer industrialised economies. But us, and a couple of others, we want to stay that way.”
Laschet, whose conservative party looks certain to play the indispensable and dominant part in Germany’s next coalition government after elections on 26 September, says he is committed to Germany achieving climate neutrality by 2045.
But the 60-year-old is adamant that the country under his leadership would meet its targets by focusing on technological innovation and market incentives, rather than restrictions on consumer behaviour such as higher taxes on air travel or a ban on combustion engines.
“Much can be done with technological innovation and the means of the market,” Laschet said. “The European Union CO2 emissions trading system, for example, has proven its worth.
“To adjust our steel industry and our chemical industry so it becomes climate neutral will amount to an enormous reduction of emissions, the like of which history has never seen before. That’s why I believe it can be done without preaching abstinence or proscription. As a society we have the technological means to become climate neutral and still remain an industrial nation.”
Scientists question whether technological research can come up with game-changing innovations over the next decade. Work on “negative emissions” technology – sucking the CO2 out of the air to compensate for the ongoing release – has yet to yield a breakthrough, for example.
Unlike countries including the UK, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium, Germany has yet to commit to a concrete date for phasing out petrol or diesel-powered passenger cars.
Germany started shutting down black coal plants in 2020 and has vowed to exit coal power completely by 2038, a move that Laschet, a miner’s son, said “will probably lead to the greatest reduction in CO2 since the start of the industrial age”.
“The end of the fossil fuel age is a major effort. Of course we Europeans could eat less meat, and it would probably be healthier. But ultimately climate change can only be solved globally,” he said.
Laschet opposes the German Green party’s proposals for state-led action against budget offers on air travel or a ban on short-haul flights that could be covered by train journeys, such as is being introduced in Austria and France.
Instead he proposes that an overhaul of Germany’s planning and approval laws could lead to an expansion of the rail network that would incentivise more people to travel by train rather than plane.