09 Sep 2016 | Julian Wettengel

Germany’s trimmed-down Climate Action Plan

After months of deliberation, the German environment ministry has presented a trimmed-down Climate Action Plan 2050 for consultation with other ministries. The plan has been presented as crucial for Germany to achieve its ambitious climate targets, and aims to fulfil pledges made toward last year’s international agreement in Paris. A more ambitious draft earlier this year was rebuffed by the economics ministry and Angela Merkel’s chancellery. This CLEW factsheet outlines the main features of the new draft, slated for cabinet approval in early November.

The version published by the environment ministry will now be coordinated with all other relevant ministries, before being put before the federal cabinet in November. Until the end of September, the federal states, as well as stakeholder representatives are invited to submit written statements. This step is not mandatory, because the Climate Action Plan will not be a law, but rather form part of the government’s energy transition strategy. From the get-go, the environment ministry had involved citizens, communities, states and other stakeholders in a dialogue process, resulting in a list of proposals for climate protection measures.

“No rigid provisions”

The new version contains more flexible language, and states explicitly that: “It cannot and will not be a detailed masterplan, fixed for decades.” According to its new preamble, the Climate Action Plan 2050 presents measures that will make Germany “largely” greenhouse-gas-emissions neutral “by mid-century”. Yet, there will be “no rigid provisions”. The plan proposes “guiding principles”, serves as an “orientation” for all stakeholders and will “periodically be adapted” (at least every 5 years).

In contrast to the original draft, the new version does not include emission reduction targets for each sector anymore (energy, transport, industry, buildings, agriculture). Some of the other concrete targets mentioned in previous drafts were either deleted from the current draft or left blank. These were substituted by the note: “xx [value will be set during coordination between the ministries].”

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks stressed that concrete targets and measures would be introduced after talks with other ministries.

  • Competitive industry

The environment ministry points out that it will place special focus on keeping German industry competitive with “functioning, innovative and complete value chains”. “It is about using the strength and creativity of the German market economy and the forces of competition to attain the existing national, European and international climate targets.”

  • Energy sector

The energy sector, which was previously described as making a “considerable” contribution to the 2030 reduction target of 178-188 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents, is now tasked with contributing “adequately” to the overall reduction target.

According to the draft, the electricity supply will play a significant role for the decarbonisation of all other sectors, for instance through the electrification of transport and heating. Much more electricity than today will be needed. The power sector itself is to be “transformed to an electricity supply based on renewables until about 2050” with emissions “avoided almost entirely” by that time.

To get there, however, natural gas-fired and modern coal-fired power plants have an “important function as interim technology”, says the plan. It does not suggest a timeframe for a coal phase-out, as the original version did.

Instead of saying that coal-fired power production must “end well before 2050” – as the first draft proposed – the document states that “the importance of power production from coal will decrease” and that there will be a “step-by-step reduction” of coal power generation. Setting up a commission on climate protection, growth and structural change is still part of the plan, albeit without the specific assignment to propose a roadmap for a coal phase-out.

In terms of renewables development, the draft proposes additional capacity of 2.5 gigawatts of solar PV every year, but leaves blank the amount of onshore wind power capacity to be installed.

Emissions trading is to be strengthened, combined heat and power and the electricity grid expanded and sector coupling technologies such as power-to-gas further developed.

  • Building sector

The energetic quality of old buildings after renovation may only in exceptional cases exceed the standard for new buildings by more than 40 percent.

The share of renewable energies in the energy consumption of the building sector is to be increased to 25-30 percent by 2030, with the aim to reach the higher number. To help reach this target, renewable fuel-powered heating systems are to be “significantly more attractive” than their fossil counterparts by a year yet to be decided. Earlier versions had envisioned a ban of new installation of fossil heating systems from 2030 onward.

  • Industry

For industry, the avoidance of emissions should be “furthered as much as possible”, leaving more leeway than for other sectors. This is in line with the preamble’s focus on a competitive German industry.

Contrary to the first draft, the current plan calls for continued industry exemptions: “Businesses that compete internationally and that within their sector belong to the 10 percent that are most efficient and have lowest emissions, must continue to receive their emissions certificates free of charge.”

To avoid industry emissions, the environment ministry’s draft puts carbon capture and storage (CCS) back in the mix, despite strong opposition against this technology in Germany.

Setting a European carbon floor price is no longer mentioned.

  • Transport

The original draft stated that the transport sector would have to deliver a “disproportionately high” CO2 reduction in the future because it had not cut emissions at all so far. Yet, the current version says the transport sector has to deliver an “ambitious” contribution. The latest version no longer specifies that the sector cut emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2005.

For average passenger car greenhouse gas emissions per kilometre driven, the draft leaves blank a concrete target to be decided in the ministry consultations. Before the draft was sent to the Chancellery, a decrease of 45 percent by 2030 was mentioned, compared to 2010 values.

The environment ministry omitted its goal that by 2030 “most newly registered cars will have an electric drive or motors powered by renewable synthetic fuels”, and substituted the sentence: “Until 2030, the federal government aims for a significant decrease of emissions by passenger cars.” A concrete target is slated to be set in 2020.

  • Agriculture

As some emissions in agriculture are unavoidable, the sector is expected to produce roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which means cutting emissions in half compared to today.

Most emissions in the sector are laughing gas, resulting from the use of nitrogen in fertilisers, so the environment ministry wants to lower the nitrogen surplus in this area. Contrary to the previous draft, no concrete target is named. It will be set in the consultation with the other ministries.

The ministry deleted the notion that the reduction of the ruminant animal populations is “crucial for climate protection” and Germans should hence eat less meat.

Until 2030, 20 percent of all agricultural land should be used for organic farming (2014: 6.3 percent).

  • Land use and forestry

Use forests as carbon sinks; re-naturalise moorlands for the same purpose.

  • Ecological tax reform

The environment ministry suggests that the government come up with a concept for “ecological tax reform”, saying that “environmentally related taxes and levies can cost-efficiently trigger climate-friendly economic behaviour”. Such a reform could include the implementation of “ecologically fair prices” by internalising the environmental costs of harmful products and services. The current draft leaves out the earlier idea to investigate how “additional levies on fossil fuels and heating fuels” could be used to support environmentally beneficiary technologies.

  • Climate friendly investment

The government wants to reduce subsidies that are environmentally harmful. 

  • National welfare index

The government should consider a national welfare index – which rates the condition of a nation by the state of its natural resources and ecosystems and damages from greenhouse gases – to be published annually, alongside gross domestic product.

  • Federal bureaucracy

The environment ministry aims for a “greenhouse gas-neutral federal bureaucracy” by 2030.

  • Embed climate protection in local public services

The government should investigate how to make climate protection a higher priority for local and regional level policy, as well as businesses.

 

Read a CLEW factsheet here and a CLEW article here about the earlier draft of the Climate Action Plan, and about the history and process that led to the current plan.

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