The lethal destruction in western states will frame the debate ahead of September’s vital election
Earlier this month, the German Greens unveiled an election poster designed to reassure voters who might be wary of their environmental radicalism. “Economy and climate without crisis”, went its slogan, suggesting that ambitious carbon reduction targets could be met without undue pain for jobs and industry. Days later, ecological crisis struck, in the form of the devastating floods that have overwhelmed western Germany, and parts of Belgium and the Netherlands. More than 190 people are so far known to have died, following flooding of an intensity and scale that has shocked scientists. The record levels of rain in north-west Europe followed record-breaking heat in the Americas. Extreme weather events are becoming the new normal, as climate models have long predicted. But some of the recent spikes have outstripped scientific predictions.
The eventual impact of the floods on Germany’s September election remains to be seen. But this disaster, which the country’s main political parties have broadly agreed was related to global warming, has thrust the climate crisis to the forefront of the campaign. On Sunday, Angela Merkel, who is standing down as chancellor, insisted that Germany needed to “up the pace in the fight against climate change”. Less impressively, the conservative frontrunner to succeed her, Armin Laschet, was caught on video sharing jokes with bystanders during a visit to a flooded town. As the president of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the worst-hit states, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union can make amends by getting to the bottom of a lethal failure to translate satellite warnings into evacuations on the ground.