Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As a former Minister of the Environment turned Chancellor, Angela Merkel had already proven those wrong who surmised that environment positions are a dead end to high-rising political aspirations; now she became only the second German politician (after Konrad Adenauer, the first head of a German government after the Second World War, in 1957) who received the honor to address the U.S. Congress; and as a widely respected leader on environmental issues who is, at the same time, the leader of a conservative party, she would be well positioned to appeal to cautious Republicans when talking about climate change and energy reformation—at least I had hoped so in a recent interview with Reuters.

Angela Merkel in her speech on Capitol Hill yesterday, just weeks after her reelection for a second term (this time as a leader of a center-right coalition) was moved by the honor and the standing ovations she received from U.S. lawmakers even before she had started her speech. Following up on her promises, she spent a good portion of her talk on climate change, urging Congress and the Obama administration to take bold steps to address the issue, in her view one of the “great tests” of the 21st century. “We all know we have no time to lose,” she said.

But her remarks did not resonate with most Republicans. While Merkel’s remarks were met with passionate applause from Democrats, almost the entire Republican side—including key swing voters, such as Independent Senator Dick Lugar from Indiana and Republican Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine—remained silent. When the Chancellor pointed out that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would spur economic and jobs growth worldwide, the same partisan gulf occurred.

Already earlier in the day, Republicans had refused to attend the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s markup of Senators John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) important climate bill (Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act). The only one out of seven Republican Senators on the committee who showed up for the meeting was Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio) who briefly expressed the Republican opposition to the committee’s proceedings. In their view, the Environmental Protection Agency has not done enough economic analysis of the Kerry-Boxer bill. Democrats, however, accuse their opponents of pure gamesmanship pointing out that the Kerry-Boxer bill is modeled after the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which passed the House side of Congress earlier this year and underwent intense economic scrutiny, including from the EPA.

Angela Merkel can tell a great success story about green jobs creation in Germany. The country—home to Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Opel, and Volkswagen—is on track to have more people employed in the environmental technology sector than in the automobile industry as early as 2015. It has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20% since the beginning of the 1990s. But it seemed yesterday as if only half of the U.S. representatives were ready for Merkel’s optimism—one that has often been echoed by President Obama in the past.  Regarding the Copenhagen UN climate summit, Merkel said: “I’m convinced, once we in Europe and America show ourselves ready to adopt binding agreements, we will also be able to persuade China and India to join in ….No doubt about it, in December, the world will look to us, to the Europeans and to the Americans. ” Thus far, only half of America looks back.

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