Why Germany’s Election Makes Fridays For Future More Relevant Than Ever
Featured Image by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Fridays for Future (F4F) dominated the news scene in late 2018 and 2019. The movement formed after the climate change activist Greta Thunberg started to protest in front of the Swedish Parliament every Friday instead of going to school to raise awareness about Climate Change. Many students across the world followed her example and the movement was born. Students are protesting because of political inaction against global warming. Many sub-organisations of Fridays for Future have formed such as Parents for Future, Grandmas for Future or Scientists for Future. Even though the movement has yet to achieve its political demands, it has raised an incredible amount of climate change awareness.

Who are Fridays for Future Germany?

The first Fridays for Future Protest in Germany took place on December 7, 2018, in a small town in northern Germany. After the first protests, the movement quickly spread across Germany. On March 1, as part of the first global climate strike, 300,000 students protested in 220 cities across Germany.In early 2019, as the protests started to grow, climate activist Luisa Neubauer became the face of the German movement. In the German Media, she is often referred to as the “German Greta Thunberg”. What many do not know, however, is that Luisa Neubauer activism started long before her involvement with F4F. In 2016 she became a youth ambassador for the non-governmental organisation (NGO)  ONE. As part of her role as a youth ambassador, she wrote articles for the German edition of Huff Post.

What is the consensus about climate change in German society?

In Germany, Fridays for Future has been and is still largely being criticised, especially by politicians. The conversation often focuses on the fact that these children were skipping school rather than the actual protest and what they are demanding. The movement responded to this criticism by saying that they have no other choice but to “waste their lesson time” to be heard. 

However, their protests have also been praised by many and the awareness raised through these protests has led to huge changes in German society. According to a survey by the German News Network ARD, 81% of Germans think the government needs to take more swift action against climate change. Germans are also increasingly willing to make sacrifices in their personal life such as eliminating short-haul flights or eating less meat for the good of the planet.  During the European elections in 2019, the Fridays for Future Movement was at its peak, consequently, climate politics jumped to the top of the agenda in the elections. Many parties and candidates prioritised their ideas for climate politics in their party program. Germanys Green Party are largely considered to be the “large winners” of the election. They gained 20% of the votes, doubling their result from the 2014 election.

Climate politics of German Cities

Following protests in their cities, many local governments decided that they need to develop their climate strategy.  Until now there are 1300 climate protection managers in various German cities. Their job is to develop strategies for the cities to reduce their negative impact on the climate.  The idea is to make it easier, quicker and cheaper to develop projects on a small local scale than on a large national or regional scale. Working on a local scale also offers more opportunities to involve residents which will help to spread a more sustainability focussed mindset.   Several city governments have also taken it upon themselves to declare a climate emergency and set more ambitious goals than the federal government. Some cities such as Essen have vowed to become climate neutral by 2030 and Karlsruhe by 2050. Many cities and towns across Germany are now following this example. 

Current climate politics of new chancellor candidates

In early 2020 Olaf Scholz was announced to be the Social Democrats’ choice for chancellor candidate. He is not known to support environmental policies; however, he claims to have recently spent more time focusing on the issue. He is a strong supporter of hydrogen energy and wants to further step back from the coal industry which is very strong in Germany.  The social democrat party is often criticised for following the climate strategy of other parties rather than developing their own. He has also distanced himself from the Green Party. He explained that instead of dismantling big industries such as the transport industry but wanted to make them more climate-friendly. Scholz also promised to expand renewable energies everywhere in Germany. 

As of February 17, the Christian Democrats have not yet chosen their chancellor candidate. However,  most are speculating that Armin Laschet will candidate. The former prime minister of North-Rhine Westphalia federal state was voted head of the party in January. He is likely to follow Merkel’s policies to a large extent. The Christian Democrats are known for not focussing a lot on climate policies and Merkel has focused on working on the international stage rather than on a small national scale. The party has recently proposed a mix of CO2 certificate trading, and incentives such as relief on electricity prices through tax reductions. South Korea has recently released similar plans, investing heavily in green and digital technology, also laying its focus on hydrogen-based energy. Spain is also becoming a leader in climate strategy as it is planning to shut down 69% of its coal-fired plants in the next two years.

How important will the movement be for the election?

The upcoming general election will be historic, without a doubt. Angela Merkel will no longer be a candidate, meaning the new candidates have big shoes to fill. In the last year,  F4F and their demands have become less relevant due to the focus on fighting the pandemic. They have moved mainly their protests online and are less present in the public eye in the media. 

While the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic and social consequences will likely be the most important topic, the climate strategy of parties will also be of great importance. The “Klimafrage” (climate question) is especially important to the younger generations and many older generations are beginning to realise its importance. In the past, around 64% of under 21-year-olds and 60% of 21-25-year-olds have voted in general elections.  

For the upcoming election, it will be important that the parties propose concrete and ambitious, yet realistic strategies for the upcoming crucial years and in order to make their political strategy appeal to the younger voters. The current and previous governments have often failed to attain their goals and they must take swift action and follow the Paris agreement to regain their voters’ trust. In the next few weeks, as the election campaigns heat up,  the direction the candidates and their parties will take will become clear.  When we compare Germany’s climate performance internationally, it is certainly lagging behind. The new government will need to swiftly fulfil their plans in order for Germany to rise up the ranks in terms of climate action.