12 Apr 2024, 13:29
Benjamin Wehrmann

German government divided over effect on transport if climate law reform is delayed

Handelsblatt / Clean Energy Wire / Der Spiegel

Representatives of German government coalition parties have voiced diverging views on the consequences for transport if a law reform is delayed that would allow to shift emission-cutting obligations to other sectors. Transport minister Volker Wissing said a reform of the Climate Action Law is urgently needed to avoid drastic emergency measures in the sector to cut emissions, newspaper Handelsblatt reported. In a letter to his government cabinet colleagues, the politician from the pro-business Free Democrat Party (FDP) warned that without an agreement on sharing obligations across all sectors, his ministry could be compelled to introduce measures such as sweeping driving bans on weekends to ensure transport-related greenhouse gas emissions are slashed. Wissing argued that reducing the kilometres travelled by passenger cars and lorries could be the only way for cutting transport sector emissions in line with existing laws in the short-term. Wissing said that a reform would have to be agreed by mid-July to avoid his ministry introducing emergency measures.

Germany’s Federal Environment Agency (UBA) has urged rapid change in the transport sector, which again clearly missed its climate targets in 2023. A comprehensive expert report on last year’s emissions is expected by next week. Under the current law, transport minister Wissing could be compelled to draft a sectoral emergency programme within three months of the expert council assessment to bring emissions in line with climate targets. UBA has listed a whole range of measures that could lower transport emissions, for example a speed limit on motorways, a measure that Wissing's party has fiercely rejected. Commenting on the transport minister's suggestion, UBA head Dirk Messner said "we obviously don't need driving bans," nor would these be debated by anyone involved. While measures in the sector are urgently needed, this would not imply that driving bans are a viable option, Messner added in an article on news website Der Spiegel.

Green Party parliamentary group leader Katharina Dröge said she was “surprised” by the transport minister’s suggestion to introduce driving bans. “The Green Party does not believe that this is sensible policy.” Dröge said Wissing was acting irresponsibly by stoking fears about drastic measures. “Volker Wissing should rather take his task seriously and finally come up with useful climate action measures in the transport sector. There are enough measures available.” Isabel Cadematori, a transport expert from the Social Democrats (SPD), also questioned the minister’s approach, arguing there are many options to reduce emissions fast. Previous suggestions by the transport ministry on how to cut emissions were deemed “lacking in sufficient ambition even at the outset” by government advisors.

A reform of the Climate Action Law has been planned since mid-2023. Transport has been long considered the “problem child” of Germany’s energy transition, as emissions from cars, lorries and other means of transportation have not fallen meaningfully since the 1990s, while other sectors all achieved substantially larger reductions. The current law stipulates an emissions reduction of 65 percent compared to 1990 by 2030 and sets individual reduction targets for industry, energy, transport and buildings. If reduction targets are missed in one of them, the responsible administration must take immediate steps to comply. The proposed reform says that the government as a whole needs to decide on emergency reduction measures and can also allocate responsibility to other sectors, where further reductions are believed to be achievable more easily. This step would only become necessary if emissions reduction is not on track two years in a row. Difficult decisions in individual sectors thus could be avoided more easily.

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