Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement an energy transition in Germany

Germany’s national climate objectives are as follows:

Germany wants to be carbon neutral by 2045, which would be the year 2045. Initially, it established a target of reducing emissions by at least 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and an even greater reduction of 88 percent by 2040.

It was approved in 2019 and updated in 2021, and it sets annual reduction objectives for particular sectors like as industry and transportation until the year 2030. The country’s first national climate law was passed in 2019 and amended in 2021. These are established in accordance with the European Union’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, in the event that a target is missed or exceeded, the legislation specifies that the difference will be distributed fairly across the remaining annual emissions budgets of the sector through 2030 and beyond, with additional objectives established for 2040 and 2045. Germany’s national climate objectives can be made more ambitious, but they cannot be made less ambitious.

As part of its climate law, Germany also stipulates that new emission budgets for the years following 2030 will be established in 2024, and that these must be in accordance with both its own targets and those set by Europe, which include both climate neutrality by 2050 and net zero emissions by 2050.

Among the few nations in the world to have established the aim of reaching climate neutrality by or before 2050 in national legislation, Germany is one of a few. A target of net-zero emissions by at least 2050 has been set by the European Union in its 2021 climate law, and about 40 additional countries across the world have committed to attaining that goal through legislation or through policy papers.

A significant distinction between the EU and Germany is that the EU and Germany refer to total greenhouse gases, whereas some of them defined their objective in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) alone. “Net greenhouse gas neutrality” is defined in Germany’s national climate law as “the balance between anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases from sources and the removal of such gases by sinks.”

The aim of net-zero emissions by 2050 is derived from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) statement from 2018, which stated: In order to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, worldwide net human-caused CO2 emissions must be brought to a “net zero” level during the next three decades.

The objectives of Europe are intertwined with one another

Germany’s climate objectives are derived from the European Union’s aims for reducing greenhouse gas emission levels. The European Union is presently discussing a significant reform of its climate and energy legislation after choosing to boost its 2030 emissions reduction target (to -55 percent) and to aim for climate neutrality by 2050 as part of its climate and energy strategy. The reforms at the EU level, which are likely to be finalized by 2022-2024, will have an impact on German policy once more. Until then, the following is the state of affairs:

By using a “cap-and-trade” method, the EU ETS includes emissions from power production, energy intensive sectors, and civil aviation, among other things. A limit on the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that can be emitted each year is established by the European Union, and firms are required to hold emission permits for every tonne of CO2 that they produce. These permissions are given to them or purchased by them, and they can exchange them. If they release more CO2 than is covered by their emission limits, they will be subject to a punishment of 100 euros per tonne of excess CO2.

In accordance with the Effort Sharing Regulation, an EU-wide target for domestic emissions is intended to reduce nearly 60% of total domestic emissions. There are certain minor businesses and agricultural (but not LULUCF) that are not included by the EU’s Emissions Trading System, thus this includes emissions from transportation, buildings, trash, and some other sources (ETS).

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As a result of the rule, member states must collectively achieve a 10 percent reduction in total emissions by 2020 and a 30 percent decrease by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels. Countries, on the other hand, are obligated to make contributions that vary in proportion to their relative wealth. As a result, Germany bears a far greater duty than, say, the Republic of Poland.

Germany’s assigned emission reduction target is set at minus 14 percent by 2020 and minus 38 percent by 2030, with the latter being the more ambitious of the two. Effort Sharing Regulation also specifies annual emission budgets (AEAs) for the years 2021-2030, which follow a linear reduction trajectory, in addition to a linear reduction trajectory. This trajectory serves as the foundation for Germany’s climate objectives and sectoral carbon budgets.

Whenever a member state does not meet its yearly emission reduction objectives, it is required to develop a “corrective action plan.” In the event that Germany fails to meet its emission reduction objectives, it may be forced to purchase carbon allowances from other member states at a significant financial loss.

Emissions of greenhouse gases – current situation

In 2020, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 8.7 percent compared to the previous year, despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic had thrown the country’s economy into recession and lockdown measures had made public life and movement difficult. With the consequences of the move to renewable energy sources, as well as mild weather and rising CO2 costs, the epidemic compounded the effects of the change, causing the largest reduction in emissions since 1990. All economic sectors decreased climate-harming emissions, with a combined reduction of around 70 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (CO2-eq), reducing the country’s total emissions to 739 million tonnes, according to preliminary statistics provided by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA).

Compared to 1990, Germany’s emissions dropped by 40.8 percent, indicating that the country has exceeded its initial objective of lowering emissions by 40%. All sectors, with the exception of one (buildings), met or exceeded their allotted greenhouse gas reduction objectives for 2020.

Nevertheless, according to a think tank report, Germany is on track to significantly fail its climate objectives by 2021, putting more pressure on the candidates for chancellor to submit proposals for quick carbon reductions. Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise by around six percent in the six weeks before the country’s general elections on September 26, according to Agora Energiewende, which estimates that the economy will recover from the impacts of the coronavirus epidemic.

Goals for the transition to a clean energy economy

Germany’s most significant instruments for meeting its emission reduction objectives are the expansion of renewable energy sources, the decrease of energy consumption, and the phase-out of the use of fossil fuels in all sectors of the economy. In order to do this, the government has also established a number of energy transition goals, the majority of which are focused on increasing the use of renewable energy and decreasing energy consumption.

While the objectives for the energy transition are subject to a yearly monitoring procedure overseen by the economics ministry, they are also subject to recommendations from an independent committee of energy specialists. In March 2021, the European Commission stated that Germany must swiftly increase its national climate and energy targets in order to put efforts in line with new EU-wide goals in the field of climate and energy. The experts gave varying assessments of the current state of the Energiewende.

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As a result of the government’s agreement on higher climate-change objectives, new and more aggressive energy-transition targets are being discussed. Germany’s revised Renewable Energy Act (EEG), for example, has the goal of having all power generated or used in the country produced in a climate-neutral manner “before 2050.” The aim of having 65 percent of electricity consumption come from renewable sources by 2030 became legally enforceable as well.

However, as political parties prepare for the 2021 election campaign, the argument over even tighter objectives is still raging. The new government may set more ambitious targets for the country.

Goals for renewable energy sources

With regard to the expansion of renewable energy sources, Germany has achieved tremendous strides. Since the introduction of support payments under the country’s Renewable Energy Act in 2000, renewables have progressed from being a niche technology to being a dominating component in the country’s electricity mix, according to the government.

In 2020, renewables provided more than 46 percent of the country’s electricity consumption, considerably surpassing the target of 35 percent set for that year by the government. In the newly revised renewables law, the government is now aiming for a 65 percent share by 2030.

Renewables now account for 19.6 percent of the country’s total final energy consumption, above the target of 19.5 percent set for 2020. (18 percent ). By 2030, the government wants to have a 30 percent stake of the market.

This places Germany ahead of a large number of other industrialized countries (note that the share of hydropower in the German energy mix is comparatively low, with most renewable power coming from wind, solar and biomass).

A recent slowdown in renewables development, on the other hand, has prompted the renewable energy sector and environmental organizations to warn that Germany’s renewable energy objectives may be missed if the government does not act quickly. As a result, parliamentarians reached an agreement on a renewables legislation reform in 2020 and early 2021, with which they established renewables support auction volumes for the following years, as well as wind, solar, and biomass capacity objectives for 2030.

Although a more aggressive renewables share target for 2030 has been set, as well as updated forecasts for 2030 overall power demand, these decisions have been deferred to the next German government, which will be elected in September 2021.

Targets for energy efficiency

Germany has made far less progress on its objectives to reduce energy demand than it has made on its targets to increase the use of renewable energy sources. A major pillar of the Energiewende, increasing energy efficiency is widely seen as necessary to attaining climate neutrality by 2045, according to most experts. Nevertheless, achieving large-scale energy savings – through building insulation, altering behavior, and adopting several new and often expensive technologies in various industries – requires the cooperation of everyone, and this has proven to be a difficult sell so far.

According to the country’s targets, primary energy consumption should be reduced by 20 percent by 2020 when compared to 2008 levels. However, even with the drop in demand brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, consumption only decreased by 18 percent in the year 2000. German gross power consumption, on the other hand, dropped by around 11 percent, allowing the country to meet its 2020 objective (-10 percent ).

Because many experts anticipate that electric mobility and other factors would significantly increase power demand in the future, the economy ministry has been criticized for its estimates of future electricity usage. In July 2021, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier released fresh, higher projections, which the winning political parties might use to establish additional renewable energy objectives following the elections.

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In the perspective of historical emissions

When looking back at Germany’s historical emissions track record from 1850, it becomes clear that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions have been highly reliant on economic fluctuations as well as the country’s transition between war and peace periods.

A highly noticeable impact on emissions was exerted by World War One, which was followed by the economic and political crises of the 1920s and early 1930s, as well as the build-up to and aftermath of World War Two. With the exception of these anomalous periods, Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions increased steadily until they reached a peak in 1979 at 1,390 million tonnes CO2 equivalents, according to the International Energy Agency.

Since then, emissions have been steadily decreasing — as has been the case since the worldwide reference year of 1990. As a result of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and reunification, Germany gained an early advantage in 1990 when the downfall of the East German industrial and electricity sectors resulted in automatic CO2 reductions (known as “wall fall profits”). Because of the economic downturn, which caused many businesses to scale back output, emissions decreased by 6.9 percent in 2009 compared to the previous year.

Although it appeared that this tendency would continue in the years that followed, this expectation did not come to fruition. According to preliminary emission projections, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic might result in a similar scenario in 2020 and the years that follow.

Comparing Germany’s emissions in the past with the country’s present emissions objectives provides insight into the amount of yearly emissions the country still has to reduce.

Germany would have to achieve emissions levels last seen in 1953 or 1941 by 2020, or face a fine.

By 2030, the country’s emissions must be reduced to levels comparable to those in 1948 or 1907, respectively.

Despite the fact that Germany has largely succeeded in decoupling economic growth (as measured by GDP) from an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the country’s track record over the past three decades indicates that it will need to make significant changes if it is to meet its emissions reduction targets.

During the 31 years between 2019 and 2050, Germany will be required to reduce emissions by an amount equal to the 100-year increase in emissions that occurred between 1854 and 1954/1955.

The year 1855 corresponds to the commencement of the German industrial revolution, which began in 1848. German states united for the first time to establish a customs union that encompassed portions of what is now Poland and the Czech Republic (the data set used in this article typically shows emissions from a country’s territory within the limits of the time period in question).

The customs union encompassed a region with a total population of around 32 million people, which was less than half of Germany’s current population of over 82 million people at the time. Historically coal mining districts, such as the Rhine-Ruhr region and Saxony, were transformed into the first industrial centres, and the population continued to expand as a result of new medical and sanitation advancements.

The agriculture sector continued to account for a significant proportion of emissions (21.6 percent). 62.5 percent of the total came from energy consumption, with just 1.4 percent coming from industrial operations. Despite a boom in rail travel (in the 19th century, 50,000 kilometers of rail tracks were laid across German territory), horse-drawn carts remained the most common mode of freight transportation for short distances, while carriages or simply walking remained the most common mode of transportation for people.