BERLIN (Reuters) - After years of leadership on climate change, Germany risks being left behind as other countries move more aggressively to cut their reliance on coal and phase out the internal combustion engine, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said on Tuesday.
Speaking to Reuters in Berlin as a new German government commission met to discuss setting an end-date for coal-fired energy, Gore noted that there had not been any meaningful reductions in German carbon dioxide emissions for four years.
“If I were a citizen of Germany, I would be concerned about Germany being left behind,” said Gore, who is in Berlin to train hundreds of climate activists as part of his “Climate Reality” initiative.
“One can’t rest on one’s laurels. The leadership provided in years past created a reality that now no longer exists. Other countries are moving much faster than Germany,” he said.
In her early years in office, Angela Merkel was referred to at home as the “Klimakanzlerin”, or climate chancellor, for securing commitments at the European and G8 level to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Germany was also an early leader in solar power.
But in recent years, in an attempt to shield its large auto industry, Berlin has pushed back against efforts in Brussels to toughen emissions targets.
In part because of Merkel’s decision to end Germany’s reliance on nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011, it has also been slow to shut down its polluting coal plants.
It has acknowledged that it won’t meet its own target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.
Gore, who won an Oscar and shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, said he had “immeasurable respect” for Merkel and acknowledged that she was operating in a difficult political landscape, but urged Germany to re-establish its leadership on the climate.
Like Hillary Clinton in 2016, Gore won the popular vote in the presidential election in 2000 but ended up losing - to Republican George W. Bush - due to the Electoral College system, which awards points based on the states won.
He said he understood concerns in Europe about the policies of President Donald Trump, who has hit Europe with trade tariffs and pulled the United States out of the global Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal with major powers.
But he predicted that the transatlantic relationship with Washington’s European allies would survive, and said U.S. mid-term elections in the November could bring about “big change” if the Democrats wrest back control of Congress.
“I think that Trump is making so many mistakes and making so many enemies that the outcome I hope for in November may be echoed by the outcome two years later,” said Gore.
He said Trump’s victory over Clinton may eventually be looked upon as an “anomaly”.
Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Kevin Liffey