It was probably inevitable that Donald Trump would serve as the justification for all kinds of flimsy excuses, so why shouldn’t Germany’s auto industry instrumentalize his election to President to argue in favor of watering down climate legislation?
Trump has threatened to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, a landmark pact adopted by 195 countries including Germany last December, with the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Centigrade.
At this month’s COP22 climate summit held in Marrakech, every signatory to the pact is scheduled to present a national adaptation plan in which each spells out concrete measures to implement the pact. Germany for example has set itself the 2050 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent compared with 1990.
The German government’s plan, only now agreed on Friday following a lack of political consensus in Berlin, was barely fresh off the printer before the country’s influential auto industry lobby, the VDA, immediately deemed it to be “unrealistic” in view of estimates on the growing mobility demands for both individuals as well as goods.
In it, the transportation sector is expected to reduce its output to 95-98 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2030, down from 160 million just two years ago, according to figures from Greenpeace. The percentage reduction is not much higher than the target for agriculture and is substantially lower than that of the energy sector, by comparison.
The VDA says Germany risks “going it alone” because its plan is more ambitious than the current EU-wide targets. The VDA rather lamely shoved a Trump administration into the foreground as a reason why now was most certainly not the time to take action.
“Meaningful advances can only succeed when we work together internationally,” said VDA President Matthias Wissmann in a statement. “That means that major emission producers in Asia or the USA must strengthen their efforts, yet it is precisely in the United States that we can expect the opposite with the newly elected President.”
That is exactly the kind argumentation President George W. Bush used to justify not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.
Wissmann said automakers are unfairly overburdened: “A balance must be maintained between the economy and the environment.”
German carmakers, who are all highly profitable with operating margins this year north of 5 percent, have already lost a lot of credibility following Volkswagen Group's diesel scandal. Their reputation for building innovative premium products “made in Germany” has taken a further dent after Silicon Valley’s Tesla showed them how to successfully market electric cars. Digging their heels yet again sends the wrong message to their customers.
Targets are always supposed to be challenging, what’s the point otherwise? No one ever expected Volkswagen to overtake Toyota in sales when ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn first announced the target eight years ago. Any one who thought in early 2013 that Mercedes would leapfrog Audi and BMW to become the world’s largest premium brand and that it would do so this year already would have been considered crazy.
If these climate targets incentivized through the payment of bonuses just like their financial targets are, I would bet Germany’s auto executives would change their tune and suddenly be amply motivated.