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Germany is at the threshold of the low-carbon century. Despite massive public support, the transition presents major challenges and a fundamental change in the country’s way of life. The ECF’s Germany programme strives to realise a low-carbon Wirtschaftwunder ensuring sustainable jobs, a healthy and stable environment for the next generation, and economic welfare built on low-carbon solutions.

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Key challenges

  • Political inertia: Despite massive public pressure, the German government, a centre right-centre left “grand coalition” now in its third term, is mired in inertia. It has gone from being a former forerunner on the international stage to lagging behind in climate action, as recently demonstrated by a weak and ineffective “climate law” and “implementation package.”
  • Failure to meet reduction targets: Germany’s CO2 emissions are not decreasing. The country will miss its 2020 target, and achieving the 2030 target is looking less and less likely. While Germany is still keeping up its ambition on the international climate negotiations field, it is almost at a standstill when it comes to implementation of climate measures at the national level.
  • Climate policy is becoming a wedge issue: The political playing field for climate policies has become strongly polarised. On the one hand, protests against coal in Hambach Forest were game-changing, tens of thousands of students have been on strike every Friday for months, and public opinion is in favour of stronger climate protection. On the other hand, greater political polarisation has immobilised action on energy and climate.


  • Achieving effective climate legislation: The lowest-common-denominator policy of the “grand coalition” has left an enormous gap in – and need for – strong and binding climate legislation. Not only do climate targets have to be legally enshrined (which the current draft law does), but failure to meet them has to have real legal and political consequences (which the current draft doesn’t address). Making German climate targets enforceable by law is a precondition for true government accountability in achieving them.
  • Engaging conservative stakeholders in meaningful debate about climate strategies: In Germany’s increasingly polarised political landscape, it is unlikely that any coalition without the conservative party can gain a governing majority. It is therefore essential to engage the conservatives, who have never had a strong climate profile or policy programme, in open debate, knowledge exchange, expert fora and stakeholder dialogues to support their positioning on effective, long-term climate strategy and policy.
  • Accelerating the German coal phase-out: The coal phase-out consensus negotiated by the government-appointed “coal commission”, which recommends an exit date of 2038 (adjustable to 2036) is not nearly ambitious enough to fulfil Germany’s climate targets, let alone its Paris commitments. Education, awareness-raising, mobilisation and campaigning in the coal regions (which need a clearer, more sustainable vision for their future) and at the federal level will help set Germany on a path to a much earlier coal exit.
  • Accelerating the transition to a low-carbon transport system: The automobile industry has always been deeply intertwined with German economic success. To demonstrate, at the city, regional and federal level, that this key industry help drive the low-carbon economy of the future is essential for the pace and the acceptance level of the energy transition project.
  • Empowering and sustaining social movements: The climate effects already felt combined with political inertia are mobilising more and more people to take the streets for climate action. The Fridays for Future movement has inspired other groups – parents, scientists, artists, entrepreneurs – to join in. However, political presents an increasingly frustrating and frightening challenge. We need to sustain popular energy as a driver of public debate.
  • Fostering the leadership of cities and health groups as well as industry and businesses on climate action and ambition: As we can no longer rely on politics to drive climate policies, we need businesses, citizens, cities and grass roots initiatives to bridge this phase of stagnation. These initiatives make it clear that climate action cannot wait, and that it brings many benefits including more sustainable and healthier cities and business opportunities.

How we work

The ECF identifies gaps in the German response to climate change by funding organisations and coalitions of stakeholders with the right expertise and public profile to address key issues at local or national level. We take a broad approach to the types of interventions we fund – from litigation and political caucusing to activism and media engagement – because all of this activity builds towards an ambitious and thoughtful movement that reflects the full diversity of our society. Together our grantees seek social and political transformation that will ensure a secure and sustainable future for all.