German chancellor Angela Merkel said she understands young people’s frustration about the pace of efforts to combat climate change, but stressed the need to build political majorities to support effective action.
Earlier this week, Mrs Merkel’s cabinet approved an ambitious plan to reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2045, five years earlier and with deeper cuts than previously planned.
The move came after the country’s top court, acting on complaints filed by individuals and backed by environmental groups, ruled in late April that the government must set clear goals for reducing emissions after 2030.
In a recorded online panel discussion at an event organised by Catholic and Protestant groups, Mrs Merkel said: “I understand – and of course it saddens me a bit – that young people say: ‘Man, did we have to go to court before they in the government give us what we are entitled to?’
“One of the great advantages of democracy is that of course we now have to keep to this and take the next step.
“But there also have to be majorities that do the right thing … and so we must work on these majorities.”
Germany holds a national election on September 26 in which all major contenders are portraying combating climate change as a priority, and Mrs Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc faces a strong challenge from the environmentalist Greens.
Mrs Merkel herself is not seeking a fifth term after nearly 16 years in office.
The chancellor said she would like “those who do something for climate protection, for sustainability and for biodiversity” to win, “but we have a lot of work to do – that is not a foregone conclusion”.
Luisa Neubauer, a member of the Fridays for Future group, told the same event: “To be honest, I think it’s very difficult to frame climate protection with a ‘but we’re in a democracy’ clause, because that implies that democracy is standing in our way.
“It’s obvious that more climate crisis won’t do our democracies any good either,” she said.