Germany at COP28

Observers at COP28 in Dubai expect harsh criticism of the EU’s climate measures and warn that Berlin has long since squandered its credibility in climate policy.

BERLIN/DUBAI (Own report) - Observers at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, which kicks off tomorrow, expect to see harsh criticism of the EU’s climate measures. They warn that Germany has little international credibility left in the climate policy arena. Some of this criticism is directed at the EU’s new carbon tariff arrangement for the import of energy-intensive products. Under the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), special levies will be imposed by Brussels to protect Europe’s energy-intensive industries from foreign competition. The CBAM threatens to deprive African countries of almost one per cent of their GDP. It may also destroy current efforts to industrialise raw material producing countries in Africa. In addition to the criticisms levelled at EU, the German government’s declarations on the need for resolute climate action are increasingly seen as lacking credibility. On the African continent, for example, careful note has been taken of Germany’s response to its decision to stop buying Russian natural gas. African deposits which Berlin, previously, had strongly warned not to exploit are now very much on the table. Moreover, there is also growing international awareness that Germany is set to fall far short of its own climate targets for 2030 and 2045.

The carbon border adjustment mechanism

Observers anticipate a new wave of criticism of the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) at COP28, which begins tomorrow, Thursday, in Dubai. The CBAM, introduced at the beginning of October, requires special levies to be paid on energy-intensive products imported into the EU. The rationale is that companies producing these products within the EU face major costs for CO2 emission certificates ( reported [1]). The CBAM is designed to compensate in future for this competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis producers from outside the EU. Currently still in a trial phase for reporting purposes, the mechanism will demand payment from 2026. Companies are already complaining about the excessive bureaucracy that typifies much EU regulation. Thus, even for exporting individual screws, for example, the manufacturer has to make complex calculations to determine their energy-intensive content. As a first step the CBAM will only apply to precursor materials of key importance to industry, such as iron, steel and aluminium. However, other goods, like screws, with embedded emissions are to be included. Successive expansion to cover other product groups is already planned.

Africa’s contribution to the EU budget

Protest against the CBAM is coming above all from African countries that lack the means for comprehensive decarbonisation of their industries. They now see themselves being penalised for this by the imposition of special levies on exports to the EU. According to estimates by the African Climate Foundation, they can expect a sharp downturn in their exports: by 18.8 per cent for iron and steel, and by 19.9 per cent for cement (by 2030 respectively). The total losses faced by the African continent as a whole are estimated at around 0.91 per cent of its GDP.[2] Specific industries are threatening with complete collapse. Experts from Guinea warn, for instance, that in future the country will only be able to export its bauxite but not aluminium. As a raw material extracted directly from the earth it does not fall under CBAM rules, while the tariffs will be imposed on energy-intensive aluminium exports produced from bauxite, putting the future of Guinea’s aluminium industry at risk.[3] A protest note submitted by African countries to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) back in the summer stated that CBAM would reduce the development prospects of developing countries.[4] The revenue raised from the CBAM is expected to amount to 1.5 billion euros from 2028 and more than 6 billion euros from 2032. This will largely flow into the EU budget and come in part from Africa.

Policy reversal on natural gas

The protest against the CBAM is growing at a time when the EU’s reputation for climate policy leadership has suffered considerable damage, not least on the African continent.  Europe’s standing has not been helped by the fact that the German government, long known as a critic of new oil and gas extraction projects, has shifted to actively supporting previously rejected projects to exploit African natural gas fields. This follows Berlin’s decision last year to stop buying gas from Russia. In the case of deposits off the coast of Senegal, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz held talks with Senegalese President Macky Sall in Dakar in May 2022 that included the question of German access to those sources. When Scholz travelled to Nigeria at the end of October he confirmed in advance in an interview with the Nigerian newspaper Punch that, “German companies are interested in gas supplies from Nigeria and look forward to cooperating with Nigerian gas companies.”[5] Germany’s policy reversal has been noted with particular interest in African countries that have natural gas reserves, but it has done little to maintain Berlin’s credibility in terms of climate action.

Coal for Germany

Such activities are not isolated cases. The German government’s double standards can also be seen in the example of the El Cerrejón coal reserves in Colombia. The mine and its Swiss operator, Glencore, have been sharply criticised for many years for causing serious environmental damage. The company is accused of responsibility for major harm to the region’s population. Villages have been repeatedly relocated by force, houses damaged by vibrations from blasting, and water supplies impaired, while health problems result from the dust stirred up in open-cast mining ( reported [6]). Glencore was considering pulling out from coal production at this site when the EU embargo on Russian coal hiked coal prices and made the El Cerrejón operations lucrative again. In seeking to replace Russian coal, Germany has turned to Colombia. So while preaching the need to phase out coal-fired power generation worldwide, Germany has now increased imports from Colombia, sourcing almost a fifth of its coal there in 2022. As the human rights organisation FIAN reports, much of this coal is from El Cerrejón. German energy companies are “among Glencore’s most important customers”. These deals are financed by German banks and insurance companies.[7]

Climate targets “clearly missed”

The German government is urging the whole world to accelerate decarbonisation. Yet it is set to fall far short of its own domestic targets. It was announced back in the summer that the climate targets for 2030 and 2045 are unlikely to be achieved. Indeed, “the goal of achieving net greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045 ... will be missed by a wide margin”, according to a government projection report.[8] The transport sector is primarily to blame for this failure. Berlin is unwilling to ban the sale of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines before 2035. Meanwhile the switch to electric cars is progressing far too slowly. Instead of the officially projected 15 million electric cars by 2030, only 8.2 million will be on the roads in Germany by then, the same report adds. The expert verdict on the new Federal Climate Act, agreed by Germany’s coalition government in the summer, is scathing. The provisions are “not even remotely” compatible with the 1.5 degree target, explains Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Executive Director of Deutsche Umwelthilfe. In his view the law only serves to protect foot-dragging ministries from bad publicity while hiding obstructive policies in key sectors such as transport by burying them within multi-year aggregated accounting.


[1] See also: "A legacy of colonial rule".

[2], [3] Thaïs Brouck: L’industrie africaine, victime collatérale de la nouvelle taxe carbone de l’UE? 27.09.2023.

[4] Nikolaus J. Kurmayer: At COP28, Europe must grapple with consequences of carbon tariff. 27.11.2023.

[5] Friday Olokor: Germany reviewing procedures to speed up visa process – Chancellor, Scholz. 29.10.2023.

[6] See also: "Après nous le déluge (III)".

[7] Kolumbien: Deutsche Energiekonzerne und Großbanken finanzieren die toxischen Geschäfte des Bergbauriesen Glencore im Steinkohle-Tagebau Cerrejón. FIAN Presse-Information. Berlin/Frankfurt/Köln 18.11.2023.

[8] Daniel Delhaes: Deutschland dürfte seine Klimaziele 2030 und 2045 verfehlen. 24.07.2023.

[9] Experten kritisieren Klimaschutzgesetz. 08.11.2023.