01 Feb 2017 | Kerstine Appunn

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. [Update adds Agora Energiewende study]

National climate targets

Germany aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 40 percent by 2020 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 December 2016.

CO2 reduction, renewables and efficiency targets of the German Energiewende. Source: Monitoring Report 2016.

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 2015, the share of renewable sources in German domestic power consumption amounted to 31.6 percent (27.3 percent in 2014), according to the economy ministry. Renewables accounted for 29 percent of gross power production in 2015, according to AG Energiebilanzen.

In 2015 Germany had a 14.9 percent share of renewables in gross final energy consumption. (For a comparison of the 28 EU countries in 2014 see map.)

Share of renewables in energy consumption of EU countries in 2014. Source: Eurostat, 2016.

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. By 2015, Germany had achieved a reduction of 349 million tonnes CO2 eq., or 27.9 percent, on 1990 emission levels. However, projections indicate that emissions have been ticking up again since then. In March 2017, preliminary calculations by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) showed a slight emissions increase in 2016, due to colder weather and rising emissions in the transport sector.

Greenhouse gas emission trends in Germany 1990-2016 by sources. Data: UBA, 2017.

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 1990-2016. Data: UBA, 2017.

The German government has been well aware of the “climate gap” and recent projections by the federal environment ministry indicate that only in a best-case scenario will Germany be able to reach its goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020.

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 Climate Protection Report, released by the environment ministry in December 2016 to examine the progress made with the Climate Action Programme, said that the programme and the other smaller measures are likely to be less effective than predicted. The report foresees a value “on the lower boundary” of a reduction between 37 and 40.4 percent for GHG reductions by 2020. The expert opinion accompanying the latest Energiewende Monitoring Report by the federal economy ministry in December 2016 also warned that the country would probably miss its 2020 emission targets and other crucial Energiewende goals, threatening the entire project’s credibility.

Overall assessment by expert commission on meeting Germany's 2020 targets. Source - Monitoring Report 2016.

In September 2017, think tank Agora Energiewende* published a study saying Germany is likely to miss its 2020 emissions reduction target by nearly 120 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent - a far greater margin than previously thought. The country should quickly implement an ambitious set of measures to avoid “probably irreparable damage” to its international reputation as a climate protection frontrunner, the organisation added. “The next government immediately has to step up its efforts to at least get the country somewhere near its target,” said Agora Energiewende head Patrick Graichen.

Sector targets in the Climate Action Plan 2050

Between 1990 and 2015, most major German sources of emissions achieved reductions (See Figure 1). In the energy-related sectors, which are responsible for the largest share of Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (around 40 percent), emissions fell by around 21 percent between 1990 and 2015. Even bigger reductions were achieved by households (35 percent) and industry (36 percent), while emissions from agriculture fell by only 16 percent, and the transport sector only reduced its emissions by 2 percent. Emissions from waste fell by 71 percent (all according to 2017 UBA figures).

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.

German greenhouse gas emission reduction sector targets for 2030. Source - Climate Action Plan 2050.

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.

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