After President Trump irresponsibly vowed in May to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that other world powers would continue fighting the good fight against global warming.
"We are more determined than ever that this be a success," Merkel later said of the accord, which employs voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to curtail human-caused warming. "We can't wait for the last man on Earth to be convinced by the scientific evidence for climate change."
Indeed, with Nicaragua and Syria now joining the Paris Agreement, the United States would be the world's only holdout among nearly 200 nations. So the leadership of Merkel, as chancellor of the world's fourth largest economy, is paramount if the planet is to rein in rising temperatures.
But German resolve is faltering, and it couldn't come at a worse time.
For a few years, it seemed as if the world's nations — gushing more than 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year into an already overheating atmosphere — might have peaked on emissions.
Not so. Projections by the Global Carbon Project this month show that after three years of stabilized emissions even as the global economy grew, the output of greenhouse gases will rise by 2% this year and continue increasing in 2018.
This is bad news for the planet. To even begin meeting Paris goals of capping global temperature at no more that 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, emissions must not only stabilize but also start falling sharply as nations curtail the burning of fossil fuels, become more efficient in energy production, and increase reliance on renewable sources such as wind and solar.
With American leadership sidelined, thanks to a president who once called global warming a hoax, the world needs the "climate chancellor." Ex-scientist Merkel earned that name for her laser focus on global warming. She was a key architect, first of European Union emission reduction targets and later of the Paris Agreement.
But her own house is not in order, largely because of an addiction to coal burning that also afflicts America, China and other nations. The result is that carbon dioxide emissions from Germany, which make up a quarter of EU greenhouse gas pollution, rose in 2016 and are projected to increase again this year.
Forty percent of Germany's energy is from burning coal, particularly a dirty variant known as lignite easily extracted through open-pit mining. Coal reliance is partly a result of Germany's foolhardy decision to end nuclear power. Berlin is also intimidated by voters in Germany's coal country. So Germany will fall far short of its 2020 goal to reduce emissions by 40% below 1990 levels, a result that an internal government document says will be "a disaster for Germany's international reputation as a climate leader."
Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats prevailed in September's election, though losing a portion of support. Her party is struggling to form a coalition government to include the climate-conscious Greens.
If the planet's future rests with the peer pressure system embraced in Paris, it's important that the Germans resolve their political fissures in a way that allows them to reclaim their position as climate change leaders.
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