Horrific floods in Germany put climate change at top of election agenda and could boost Greens

The catastrophic flooding in Germany has put climate change firmly at the top of the country’s election agenda and could potentially lead to a surge in support for the Greens, who are currently second place in opinion polls.

Germans are due to head to the polls on September 26 to elect a new parliament and government which will shape climate change policy over the next four years.

The Green party, or Die Gruenen, was briefly polling above the ruling Christian Democratic Union party in May, but its support has dipped in recent weeks amid a scandal over plagiarism and exaggerated claims on its leader’s CV.

If the Greens did emerge as the largest party, it is highly likely that they would still need to form a coalition to form a majority government, as per recent German tradition.

The polls currently place the Greens at just 17 per cent, a whisker above the centre-left Social Democratic Party, while the CDU has risen to nearly 30 per cent.

However, the CDU is facing questions over the shockingly high death toll caused by the floods and its failure to prevent them, which could spell trouble for its leader, Armin Laschet.

Mr Laschet, who is the candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, cancelled a trip to Bavaria this week so he could visit the flooded city of Hagen in his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Critics of the CDU manifesto say it is lacking in clear climate change policies, in contrast with the European Union as a whole which this week unveiled – with much fanfare – a sweeping plan to become carbon neutral by 2050.

North Rhine-Westphalia's State Premier Armin Laschet gives a statement following a visit at a vaccination centre in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on May 26, 2021

Credit: afp/afp

According to the news website Politico, Mr Laschet has been criticized over his support for a law in North Rhine-Westphalia which restricts the construction of wind turbines.

Earlier this week, Mr Laschet also rejected as "illogical" a green law restricting the speed limit on German highways to 130 kilometres (80 miles) per hour.

And he has expressed doubts about an EU proposal to ban the sale of cars with internal combustion engines from 2035 onwards.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Mr Laschet, 60, says green polices were necessary but should not jeopardise Germany’s status as a manufacturing powerhouse.

"I believe it can be done without preaching abstinence or proscription," he said. "As a society we have the technological means to become climate neutral and still remain an industrial nation."

Germany’s 2017 election was largely dominated by shock over a surge in far-Right support, after the nationalist Alternative für Deutschland (Afd) party won the third-largest number of seats.

But concerns over green issues also played a key role in 2017 and since then climate change has risen on the German agenda.

A series of hot and dry summers have led to mass protests calling for tougher action against climate change and fuelled a national debate on reducing carbon emissions.

According to EU statistics, Germany has consistently been rated as the highest carbon emitter in the bloc since 2000, followed by the United Kingdom – before its departure from the EU – and Italy.

Greenhouse emissions fell by eight per cent in 2020, but it is suspected that one of the most significant factors in the reduction was the national lockdown due to coronavirus.

So far the Greens have avoided tub-thumping about climate change over the floods, for fear of being accused of exploiting the tragedy. But Germans may not need any prompting to make the link themselves, as they survey the wreckage of their country. 

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