15 Mar 2023, 13:22
Julian Wettengel

2022 emissions reduction too little to put Germany on track for 2030 target

Graph shows greenhouse gas emission trends in Germany by sector 1990-2022. Source: CLEW 2023.

A slight reduction of German greenhouse gas emissions last year is not enough to put the country on track to reaching its 2030 climate target. The country would have to triple the annual reduction from 2 percent in 2022 to 6 percent from 2023 onwards, the head of the environment agency (UBA) Dirk Messner said in Berlin. Preliminary data by the agency showed that more coal use during the energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s war against Ukraine led to rising emissions in the energy sector, while high prices pushed down emissions in industry. The transport sector remains the “problem child” of German climate action efforts, said Messner, and failed its annual target yet again. NGO NABU called on chancellor Olaf Scholz to put his foot down and force transport minister Volker Wissing to introduce effective measures.

Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions fell slightly in 2022, as the energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s war against Ukraine caused an increase of dirtier coal electricity, but high energy prices also meant that industrial production went down, preliminary data by the environment agency (UBA) show. Emissions across all sectors decreased about two percent to 746 million tonnes CO2 equivalents (t CO2 eq.), and both the transport and buildings sectors missed their 2022 greenhouse gas reduction targets.

“We experienced climate policy in the shadow of the war,” said UBA head Dirk Messner during presentation of the data in Berlin.

In light of the tumultuous year, a two percent reduction could be seen as a partial success, he said. “However, we have to triple to annual reductions of 6 percent to reach the 2030 target,” said Messner. Speeding up renewables expansion was crucial. “There must be no more of the kind of stalemate we have seen in recent years,” said Messner. “We simply cannot afford this fatal dependence on fossil fuels.”

The emissions data “clearly outline the political task” for the government, said economy minister Robert Habeck in a press release. “In all fields of action, it is now important to strengthen climate protection without hesitation and to do so with concrete measures […]: accelerate the expansion of renewables, resolutely continue in the heating sector, increase efficiency in the use of energy and decarbonise industry – and tackling the transport sector,” said the minister.

Germany aims to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045. With its Climate Action Law, it has also set the preliminary targets of cutting emissions by at least 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, and 88 percent by 2040. UBA’s data shows that in 2022, Germany had reached a reduction of 40.4 percent.

Emissions in the energy sector increased for the second year in a row (4.4% in 2022) as Germany emerged from the pandemic and increasingly turned to coal and oil as Russia halted supplies of less CO2-intensive natural gas.

Habeck said he had expected worse figures in the energy sector in view of the consequences of the Russian war of aggression. “After all, we had to put a lot of old coal-fired power plants back online last year.”

Transport: The eternal “problem child”

It was clear for the energy sector how emissions had to be reduced, mainly by speeding up renewables expansion, said UBA’s Messner. “However, in transport we don’t have a plan.”

Transport CO2 emissions were about nine million tonnes above the target for 2022, as road traffic picked up again after the coronavirus pandemic effects. “We have to keep a close eye also this time on our problem child from past years, the transport sector.” The gap to the targeted emissions reduction was even larger than in 2021. “It doesn’t look good,” said Messner.

Last year, the Council of Experts on Climate Change had slammed the transport ministry’s programme of measures to close the 2021 target gap, and has since called for a comprehensive package of measures. However, a long-awaited comprehensive climate action programme by the government, due for release by the end of last year, has still not seen the light of day. Transport minister Volker Wissing has been widely criticised for inaction.

Environmental organisation Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) said the emissions data showed that chancellor Olaf Scholz had to live up to his role as leader and force transport minister Volker Wissing to kick-start a real transition in the sector. The minister had so far “blocked” effective climate action. “It has long been clear what could be implemented quickly and effectively to reduce CO2 emissions,” wrote NABU. “A moratorium on motorway construction, the abolition of company car privileges, a phase-out of internal combustion engines for cars and trucks, and a nationwide speed limit.”

Industry production cuts “not the transformation we envision” – Messner

Industry emissions dropped significantly by 10.4 percent, as high energy prices led to big savings – but also production cuts.

“Of course, this is not the transformation we envision. We want to transform the industry and save emissions at the same time,” said UBA’s Messner.

Across Europe, natural gas demand saw the steepest drop in history last year (-13%), as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fuelled the energy crisis, an article by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows. Milder winter temperatures played a key role, as did record additions of renewables capacities and the high energy prices which pushed down demand in industry, said IEA.

Graph shows key reasons for the change in natural gas demand in the EU in 2022. Source: IEA.
Source: IEA.

“Self-proclaimed climate chancellor” Scholz must act – NGOs

Germany’s climate law stipulates what must happen now: The Council of Experts on Climate Change now has one month to evaluate the emissions data and present a report in mid-April. Following on that, the government must present a programme of measures by 15 July to get climate action in the transport and building sectors back on track.

Stefanie Langkamp, head of policy at NGO umbrella organisation Climate Alliance, criticised the German government for what she sees as breaking the law with its insufficient measures in the transport and building sectors. “Self-proclaimed climate chancellor” Olaf Scholz now had to act – in line with the law, said Langkamp. Efforts in the two sectors had been way too little for years, and “there is no turnaround in sight – for nine months, transport minister Volker Wissing (FDP) has refused to present an effective action programme, effectively undermining the rule of law.”

The emissions data confronted the government with its lacking climate action efforts, said climate protest group Fridays for Future in a press release. “Both the building and transport sectors have once again missed their emission reduction targets despite the lax requirements - this must have consequences,” wrote the organisation. It said it was “fatal” that the government did not implement “clear measures such as an expansion stop for motorways, an accelerated expansion of renewable energies and, above all, a reform of the climate action law.”

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