12 May 2021, 11:31
Sören Amelang

German government agrees on pulling forward climate neutrality to 2045

The German government has given the green light to the necessary legal changes to speed up the country's bid for climate neutrality, aiming to hit the goal five years earlier in 2045. Cabinet approved a reform of the country's Climate Action Law that also includes stepping up the 2030 target for emission cuts to 65 from 55 percent, tougher emission budgets in all sectors, and new reduction targets for the 2040s. The government prepared the reform in just two weeks, following a ruling by the country's highest court that existing legislation is insufficient. Industry criticised that concrete measures to reach the targets were urgently needed, while climate activists said the new targets were not ambitious enough to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees.

Germany's government has approved a legal reform that enshrines a 2045 target date for reaching climate neutrality, five years earlier than previously planned. The changes to the country's Climate Action Law also include a more ambitious 2030 target for emission cuts of 65 percent.

"With this law, we create more intergenerational justice, more planning security and determined climate protection that does not stifle the economy, but rebuilds and modernises it," environment minister Svenja Schulze said. She added the reform will be "a major challenge for all of us […] this is about the way we will live, produce, heat, and move in the future."

The energy industry will have to shoulder the bulk of additional emission reductions in the years to come, according to the reform. All new targets are preliminary and depend on how the EU intends to implement its more ambitious 2030 climate target. For the time after 2030, the bill introduces annual percentage greenhouse gas reduction targets until 2040, ranging from minus 68 percent in 2031 to minus 88 percent in 2040. Another novelty is the inclusion of negative emission targets for land use, land use change and forestry sector.

Call for concrete measures

Industry groups said targets alone were not enough to protect the climate and called for concrete measures. "Climate protection does not come about through targets, but through investments. This must now follow as a matter of urgency," said the head of utility association BDEW, Kerstin Andreae. "Currently, there are problems everywhere: investments in the expansion of onshore wind energy are stalling because there is a lack of land and approval procedures take far too long. We also need strategies for a real photovoltaic boom." The head of Germany's energy agency (dena), Andreas Kuhlmann, also said "the discrepancy between politically determined targets and the measures necessary to implement them is more obvious than ever."

Climate activists also said the reform was insufficient. "Today's Climate Action Law shows: Our government does not want to keep within the 1.5 degree target," said student movement Fridays for Future. "The climate targets ignore our remaining CO2 budget. Laws on a 2030 coal exit, an end to fossil subsidies and an effective CO2 price are lacking." NGO initiative Climate Action Tracker had also said the new targets “are not quite there yet in terms of Paris Agreement compatibility”.

Pieter de Pous from climate think tank E3G said the reform implies pulling forward the country's coal exit. "This government is unlikely to still adopt the measures to achieve the new climate goals but this is making a coal phase out by 2030 inevitable."

The reform follows a verdict by  Germany's highest court ruled that the government's climate legislation lacks detail on emission reduction targets beyond 2030. The decision “significantly strengthened” climate action by ruling that if the government fails to protect the climate, it could violate (young) citizens’ fundamental rights, legal experts said. The court had cautioned that future generations should not be overly burdened by irreversibly offloading major emission reduction goals onto periods after 2030. Youth activists, who had lodged the complaint to force the government to do more to mitigate climate change, said the ruling was a timely decision ahead of Germany's federal election this year. German voters will head to the polls in September to elect the next government that would shape the country’s path towards climate neutrality.

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