23 Nov 2016, 00:00
Sven Egenter Benjamin Wehrmann

Businesses should make proposals to reach climate goals- govt official

Germany’s industry should work with the government to reach the goals in the country’s newly adopted Climate Action Plan 2050 rather than criticise the plan or individual measures, energy state secretary Rainer Baake told a conference in Berlin. He said the plan was a strategy to modernise Germany’s economy as it moves to a carbon-neutral future, but business representatives called some of the targets “unrealistic” and warned that an overly ambitious climate drive could endanger the competitiveness of the country’s flagship industries. Several speakers also called for changes to the way the roll-out of renewables is paid for.

“I call on you to come together (with parties and administration) to work on ways to achieve the goals. Otherwise public pressure could lead to measures you dislike,” Baake, who is in charge of Energiewende policies at the ministry for energy and economy, told the “Agenda 2017” conference of daily newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel” on Wednesday. The business community should accept the agreed goals and then produce proposals how to achieve them.

Germany’s Climate Action Plan, agreed by cabinet two weeks ago after a consultation process of over a year and months of political wrangling, for the first time sets goals for individual sectors of the economy, such as energy, industry, transport, and agriculture. While environmentalists criticised the lack of detailed measures to reach the targets, industry associations have already warned against threats to competitiveness.

Construction industry calls climate goals “unrealistic”

Those concerns were repeated at the Tagesspiegel conference, where Peter Altmaier, head of the federal chancellery, and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble were also scheduled to speak.

The head of the construction industries association HDB, Michael Knipper, said the climate goals for the building sector were “unrealistic” and detrimental to the goal of providing urgently needed housing in German cities. "We need to avoid cost drivers" such as guidelines for the thermal insulation of new buildings that ultimately place the burden of energy transition on households in need of accommodation. He called for "taking the expertise of the construction sector more into account" when formulating sector targets. 

The president of steelmakers’ association WV Stahl, Hans Jürgen Kerkhoff, called for a global level playing field in climate policy. German climate and energy policy had to be integrated into European efforts "to make sure our competitiveness is not put in jeopardy”. Kerkhoff also warned that the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS) in its current form endangered the steel industry as it had to face competitors on a global stage who were not burdened with strict climate policies.

Debate set to gather steam in election run-up

The political debate about the next steps for Germany’s climate policy and the Energiewende, the dual phase-out of nuclear power and fossil fuels towards a carbon-neutral economy powered by renewables, is set to gather steam as the country heads into a year of crucial state and federal elections.

Speaking at a conference by the German Energy Agency (dena), conservative member of parliament Michael Fuchs from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) urged that the competitiveness of industry be the “guideline” for all discussions.

Green opposition politician Oliver Krischer rejected the notion that competitiveness and climate action were contradictions and called for a clear regulatory framework, including an exit from coal-fired power generation, to keep Germany’s industry at the top of the game.

Germany’s energy intensive industries have long warned that the cost of the Energiewende put them at a disadvantage internationally despite an increasing number of companies that are fully or partially exempt from paying the surcharge on electricity prices to finance renewables and other levies.

Reboot renewables support?

Speaking at the Tagesspiegel event, Norbert Theihs, a representative of German chemicals industry association VCI, said the government should find ways to fund renewables support differently and more efficiently to keep costs in check, reiterating calls for changes to the support scheme that have come from various sides. Economy minister Sigmar Gabriel also hinted recently that a future extension of renewable capacity might need a different financing scheme.

Germany ought to replace its electricity tax with a price tag for CO2 emissions, Hermann Albers, vice-chairman of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE), said at the Tagesspiegel conference. “The taxation scheme needs a restructuring” in order to lower the current Renewable Energy Act (EEG) surcharge, Albers said. The surcharge that consumers pay with their electricity bill, which was recently raised to 6.88 ct/kWh, was causing market distortions, whereas a price tag for CO2 emissions could help reduce fossil overcapacities, Albers explained.

Social Democrat (SPD) member of parliament Hubertus Heil also told the dena conference that the next parliament would have to look into ways of financing the Energiewende. “This debate will come should prices rise further,” he said.

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