21 Mar 2019, 11:48

Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets

This factsheet provides an overview of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and the government's Energiewende targets. [Updates graph on sector targets with 2017 status.]

National climate targets

Germany aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 40 percent by 2020, by 55 percent by 2030 and up to 95 percent in 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The share of renewables in gross final energy consumption is to rise to 60 percent by 2050. Renewables are to make up a minimum of 80 percent of the country’s gross power consumption by the middle of the century.

Germany's climate targets were put on paper in 2007 and have been upheld by all governments since. The 2014 progress report confirmed these 2007 targets, which are subject to an annual monitoring process. The latest monitoring report was published in June 2018.

The new German government might change some of the targets. For example, the coalition treaty between Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) states an increase of the envisaged share of renewables in Germany's power mix to 65 percent by 2030. The government also watered down the 2020 emission reduction goal, stating it would take steps to close the current gap “as much as possible” and reach the target “as soon as possible”.

CO2 reduction, renewables and efficiency targets of the German Energiewende. Source: Monitoring Report 2017.

Ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris 2015, many countries published similar climate action targets (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – INDCs, see an overview here). Germany's greenhouse gas reduction goal is more ambitious than that of the European Union, which wants to achieve a 20 percent cut by 2020 and a 40 percent cut by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

In the latest Energiewende Monitoring Report the federal environment ministry illustrates the structure of the country’s targets in a chart:

Structure of Germany's energy and climate targets in the Energiewende Monitoring Report 2016. Source - Monitoring Report 2016.

Renewables share in Germany

In 2017, the share of renewable sources in German domestic power consumption amounted to 36.2 percent (31.6 percent in 2016), according to the economy ministry. Renewables accounted for 33.1 percent of gross power production in 2017, according to AG Energiebilanzen.

In 2016 Germany had a 14.8 percent share of renewables in gross final energy consumption.

Share of renewables in energy consumption of EU countries in 2004 and 2016. Source: Eurostat, 2018.

While this puts Germany ahead of many other industrialised nations (note that the share of hydropower in the German energy mix is comparatively low, with most renewable power coming from wind, solar and biomass), Germany has been struggling to keep its greenhouse gas emissions in check.

German greenhouse gas emissions

In 2007, the German government set greenhouse gas reduction targets of 40 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recommendation for industrialised nations outlined in its Fourth Assessment Report. Germany had achieved a reduction of 347 million tonnes CO2 eq., or 27.7 percent, on 1990 emission levels by 2017. However, over the last few years emissions have barely changed. Preliminary calculations by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) published in March 2018 showed a slight emissions dip in 2017, mostly due to strong wind power feed-in which had led to less hard coal power production.

Greenhouse gas emission trends in Germany 1990-2017 by sources. Data: UBA, 2019.

Closing the "climate gap"

Hence the uncomfortable question remains: Is Germany’s renewable energy and climate policy effective at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, or were the country’s achievements down to other factors? Germany was given a head start in 1990 when, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification, the decline of the East German industrial and power sectors meant automatic CO2 reductions (so-called “wall-fall profits”). In 2009, emissions dropped by 6.9 percent compared to the previous year due to the economic crisis, which saw many companies scale down production. However, in the years that followed, the hope that this trend would continue remained unfulfilled.

Percentage change in greenhouse gas emissions year-on-year 1990-2017. Data: UBA, 2019.

The German government has been well aware of the “climate gap”. In June 2018, it conceded that the country is on course to widely miss its 2020 target. The economic boom, the pressure of immigration, and high emissions in transport mean that the energy transition pioneer is headed for a greenhouse gas emission cut of only 32 percent compared to 1990, according to the government’s Climate Protection Report.

In December 2014, the Ministry for Environment and the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) addressed the projected shortfall with their Climate Action Programme detailing additional measures and CO2 saving potential to ensure that Germany will reach its climate targets (See Factsheet: Climate Action Programme).

In spring 2015, the BMWi presented a proposal for a climate levy designed to reduce emissions from the power sector by another 22 million tonnes by obligating old coal-fired power stations to pay a fee if they emit more CO2 than permitted (See CLEW news story "German government wants to tackle old coal..."). But after protests from workers' unions and the large utilities, the government instead decided on a capacity reserve for 2.7 gigawatt of brown coal plants which is designed to reduce CO2 emissions by 11 million tonnes to 12.5 million tonnes in 2020. The reserve is part of the new power market design, passed by the cabinet in November 2015. The remaining reductions would have to come from an array of smaller measures, mostly incentives for industry to invest in efficiency measures, the government said.

However, the latest Climate Protection Report, released by the environment ministry in June 2018 to examine the progress made with the Climate Action Programme, said that the programme's measures were not enough to close the gap to the 2020 goal. The expert opinion accompanying the latest Energiewende Monitoring Report by the federal economy ministry in June 2018 also warned that the country would probably miss crucial Energiewende goals, threatening the entire project’s credibility.

Summary of the assessment by the expert commission tasked with monitoring the progress of Germany's energy transition - reaching targets by 2020/22. Source - expert commission on monitoring the German energy transition 2018.

Sector targets in the Climate Action Plan 2050

Between 1990 and 2016, most major German sources of emissions achieved reductions. In the energy sector, which is responsible for the largest share of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (around 40 percent), emissions fell by around 26 percent between 1990 and 2016 (see table below). Even bigger reductions were achieved by buildings (38 percent) and industry (34 percent), while emissions from agriculture fell by only 18 percent. In contrast, emissions in the transport sector rose by 2 percent [UBA data used in 2018 BMU report (page 12)].

Just in time for the international climate summit COP22 in Marrakesh and after months of dispute, Germany’s government in November 2016 agreed on its Climate Action Plan 2050. The plan includes target corridors for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the individual economic sectors as interim goals for the year 2030. By that time, Germany aims to reduce GHG emissions by at least 55 percent compared to 1990.

Table shows German greenhouse gas emission reduction sector targets for 2030, and 2017 status. Data source: BMU 2016, UBA 2019.

The sectoral targets could have “far-reaching consequences” for Germany’s economic and social development, according to the plan, which will be subject to an extensive impact assessment to allow for revisions in 2018.

*Like the Clean Energy Wire, Agora Energiewende is a project funded by Stiftung Mercator and the European Climate Foundation.

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.


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