Of the thousands of young German climate activists that took to streets days before the national elections, many never knew a German Chancellor other than Angela Merkel who held the office since 2005. Their eyes are now on her successor, Olaf Scholz.
The climate crisis threatens catastrophic impacts on human rights, and ambitious climate action by the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is critical if Germany – the European Union’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter – is to help prevent the worst of those impacts. The new government’s coalition agreement, a non-binding roadmap for legislative action, calls for elimination of coal energy “ideally” by 2030, promises a roll-back of subsidies for fossil fuels and legislation to deal with climate change adaptation planning. These are positive steps but insufficient to reach Germany’s contribution toward the global goal in the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
In addition to the climate crisis, the new coalition between the Social Democrat Party (SPD), the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens (Die Grünen) will have to tackle challenges to the rule of law within the EU, stand up for human rights against autocrats in China and Russia, and address the many challenges arising from the pandemic.
The coalition agreement makes promising commitments to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, including to change the law on legal gender recognition for transgender people so that it is based on self-determination. The coalition also commits to protecting human rights in supply chains in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that include the right to a remedy for victims. It proposes to increase the capacity of German courts to prosecute universal jurisdiction cases such as the trial on state-sponsored torture in Syria.
Within Europe, the new government intends to push for judgements of the European Court of Human Rights to have greater impact and “be implemented in all member states”. It supports the use of mechanisms and sanctions to enforce the rule of law in European Union member states. It also calls for shared responsibility for migrants and refugees among member states, an end to pushbacks at EU borders and for the border agency Frontex to respect human rights.
Scholz’s new government will now need to live up to expectations on human rights and prove that what the coalition dubbed “Germany’s responsibility for Europe and the World” is expressed in actions and not just words.