The austerity diktat in the form of the debt brake was the mantra of the CDU-led federal government under Chancellor Angela Merkel for 16 years. In the case of the energy transition and climate protection, every euro was turned over twice, while at the same time around 65 billion euros in subsidies flowed into fossil infrastructures every year. Shortly before the end of his term in office, former German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier declared that mistakes had been made and that "action had been taken too late".

In the past two years, the new government has dared to make a start, at least in part. Although the debt brake was also a mantra of the new finance minister and fossil fuel subsidies are still in place, the traffic light has at least set the course for the energy transition and climate protection, part of which is financed by the Climate and Transformation Fund (KTF).

On Wednesday, the Federal Constitutional Court made the probably momentous decision that the use of Corona loans for climate projects is unconstitutional. Now the traffic light coalition must temporarily stop the planned projects. Background: Due to the emergency situation during the Corona pandemic, the federal government had increased the budget by 60 billion euros by means of a loan authorisation. In such exceptional situations, as in the case of natural disasters, it is possible to take out loans despite the debt brake.

Climate change is not an emergency situation (?)

The CDU/CSU had filed a lawsuit against this – especially those parties that had been languishing on climate issues for 16 years. They, of all people, argued that COVID-19 was a "mass disease" and thus "clearly a natural disaster." But: "This does not apply to climate change." In this case, it was not an "exogenous shock" and thus an emergency situation. Climate change has been known for a long time and requires long-term and far-reaching state action, they say.

Until two years ago, however, the Christian Democrats were not very interested in this.

Nevertheless, the constitutional judges agree with them: they, too, do not see the climate crisis as an "emergency situation" and thus do not see the exceeding of the credit ceilings as a given. Climate protection therefore belongs in the regular budget. And as the court already showed in its 2021 ruling, the means to do so must be sufficient to protect future generations. At that time, by the way, the same judges reprimanded the previous government for its lack of climate policy. As a result, it raised its climate targets. However, they left the implementation and financing to the current traffic light government – and are now also slowing it down.

"We will, of course, respect the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court," said a visibly upset Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke on Thursday afternoon during the parliamentary debate on the new Climate Adaptation Act. She could not understand the secret joy of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group about the fact that measures for climate protection now had to be completely reorganized two weeks before the UN climate conference in Dubai.

Funds for climate adaptation could be lost

The fact that the Bundestag discussed the new Climate Adaptation Act, which is intended to prepare municipalities for more frequent extreme weather, just one day after the KTF decision, is not without a certain tragedy. Around one billion euros from the KTF were supposed to go to the Federal Environment Ministry next year – the largest part of the funds will flow into the Natural Climate Protection Action Programme (ANK), according to ministry circles. This also included programmes for climate adaptation in municipalities and rural areas. They are now waiting for the consultations and do not yet know how to proceed.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) wants to get the funds from the KTF to promote energy efficiency and renewable energies in the building sector from other sources. Both are considered flagship measures. On the other hand, what will become of the little-known funds for renaturation, forest conversion or climate adaptation in municipalities is still completely open.

"We have to get back to the basic consensus that we have to protect people from the dramatic consequences of the climate crisis," said the Federal Environment Minister in the Bundestag. "We have to pursue climate protection policy and back it up with sufficient financial resources." The latter is probably just pious wishful thinking at the moment.

After all, the Climate Adaptation Act has now been passed by the Bundestag, and in a few weeks the states still have to approve it. But even if it comes into force, everything will depend on whether there are financial resources to better protect people from drought, floods, heavy rainfall and storms. In particular, Lemke mentioned heat action plans for hospitals, the adaptation of cultivation methods in agriculture or insurance cover for citizens. But without additional funds, most municipalities will hardly be able to do anything.

No transformation without investment

By the way: Other countries, such as the USA, are deliberately relying on billion-dollar programs to make their societies climate-neutral. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed by the Biden administration was still worth $369 billion, even after some compromises.

If the IRA funds are converted to Germany, this would correspond to a German emergency programme with a volume of around 90 billion euros. The Climate and Transformation Fund, which was overturned by the Federal Constitutional Court this week, contains around 60 billion euros – and not all of it goes to climate protection or the energy transition. Where is the money going to come from now? Perhaps from the pot from which around 65 billion flows annually into fossil fuel subsidies (Federal Environment Agency 2021 )? That would be an adequate replacement.

In any case, cutting back on climate protection is not a good idea. Perhaps it would be time to rewrite the dusty slogan "Socialism or barbarism!" into "Climate protection investments or barbarism!"

If you like, we will inform you once a week about the most important things about the climate crisis – stories, research results and the latest developments on the biggest topic of our time. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

This week's topics

Data from the World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse gas concentrations reach record levels
Carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide: the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere should actually be falling. But it continues to rise, as a new report from the World Meteorological Organization shows.

Explosive US analysis of LNG: How harmful is liquefied natural gas?
Germany is investing billions in LNG terminals. But according to a U.S. scientist, liquefied natural gas is up to 274 percent more harmful than coal. What's behind the sensational study.

Report on lack of funds for climate adaptation: Poor, poorer, Afghanistan
Droughts, floods and storms hit the Global South particularly hard. A new index measures the unfairness of climate aid. Afghanistan brings up the rear, with most of the money going to an island state.

Fight against global warming: US and China want to triple expansion of renewable energies
The meeting between US President Joe Biden and his counterpart Xi Jinping is about a number of conflicts. A climate agreement could provide a ray of hope.

Despite climate crisis: Fossil fuel companies invest hundreds of billions of dollars in new oil and gas fields
Global emissions are supposed to fall significantly, but hundreds of companies are still planning to develop new oil wells. Climate activists are alarmed. The 1.5-degree target is in danger of failing once and for all.

UN report: Climate plans reduce emissions by only two percent instead of 43 percent
The international community has agreed to limit the rise in temperature. But the goals set so far are not enough, a recent report shows. What would have to happen now.

Australia wants to take in Tuvaluer: "A climate asylum would also make sense for Germany"
The South Sea state of Tuvalu is in danger of sinking. Now Australia wants to give people protection. This deal could set a precedent, says researcher Kira Vinke – with advantages for the countries of refuge as well.

Stay confident,

Yours sincerely, Susanne Götze
Science Editor