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ANGELA MERKEL

Greta Thunberg ‘drove us’ to act on climate change, says Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded Friday that her government was driven to act faster on climate change by young activists like teenager Greta Thunberg, who was speaking at rally in Berlin the same day.

Greta Thunberg 'drove us' to act on climate change, says Merkel
Thunberg speaking on Friday in Berlin.

“They certainly drove us to speed up” efforts to change policy, said Merkel at a press conference while nearby in the German capital the 16-year-old Swedish activist addressed the latest “Fridays for Future” rally.

“The seriousness with which Greta, but also many, many other young people, are telling us that this is about their lives, and that their life spans extend further, has led us to approach the matter more resolutely,” said Merkel.

She said that her cabinet planned to decide on key steps for a new climate law, including a likely carbon pricing mechanism, at a September 20th meeting.

Thunberg, meanwhile, addressing student activists who have regularly skipped school to protest, made another passionate appeal to their elders to urgently act on climate change.

A Fridays for Future demonstration in Stuttgart earlier this year.

“We need to make sure that people save the world and save humankind,” she said about global warming which is melting ice caps and glaciers, raising ocean levels and exacerbating extreme weather events.

“This situation is so strange — that the adults do not dare to take responsibility, that it is the young people and children who need to take responsibility, that young people need to sacrifice their education in order
to protect their future.”

“Please help us, we can't do this alone, we beg you for help.”

Weather 'unsettling people'

Climate change has become a top public concern in Germany, with the opposition Greens party shooting up to poll neck-and-neck with Merkel's conservatives earlier this year.

Especially since last year's scorching summer — when drought damaged German agriculture, forest fires raged and shipping was halted on dried-out rivers — many voters see global warming as the number one problem.

SEE ALSO: Drought warning: Could eastern Germany run out of water?

Merkel said that Germany's recent “exceptional weather conditions” were “unsettling people and showing the cost of non-action or insufficient action” to combat the problem.

The drought-plagued Elbe-River in Dresden.

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, has long promoted clean renewables such as solar and wind while phasing out nuclear power.

However it is missing its 2020 climate goals mainly because of a reliance on cheap coal mined domestically and slow progress in green mobility and building insulation.

Merkel's government has pledged to phase out coal by 2038, a deadline which the protest movement rejects as far too distant.

The chancellor also acknowledged that the Greens party is currently “very strong”.

But she said that this was forcing her party “to show that we are meeting our climate change targets, yet are also committed to innovation and committed to economic progress”.

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POLITICS

Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)
 

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.

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