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19 Jan 2021, 09:30
Benjamin Wehrmann

Germany already 'on track' to meet its climate targets – CDU energy expert

Germany has unexpectedly met its 2020 climate target - a sign it's on track towards the Paris Agreement's goals? Photo: Exduria2006/wiki
Germany has unexpectedly met its 2020 climate target - a sign it's on track towards the Paris Agreement's goals? Photo: Exduria2006/wiki

Germany is going into a major election year in 2021 with votes in six of the country’s 16 federal states and the federal parliamentary elections in September. Although somewhat sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic, campaigning and positioning of parties and candidates on climate and energy issues will take centre stage, as most Germans are very concerned about global warming and the overhaul of the country’s energy system to reach net-zero emissions. Clean Energy Wire has asked members of parliament to outline their parties’ approach to climate and energy in the election year and their vision for climate action in the different sectors. The range of climate policy decisions Germany has taken over the past years has firmly put the country on track to reach the Paris Agreement’s targets irrespective of criticism from climate activists, Joachim Pfeiffer, energy policy expert of the governing conservative CDU party, told Clean Energy Wire.

Joachim Pfeiffer is energy policy spokesman for the CDU's parliamentary group. Photo: DOGMA.

Clean Energy Wire: Which topics in your opinion will become particularly important or controversial in climate and energy policy in 2021?

Joachim Pfeiffer: The challenges of rebuilding our energy system are without a doubt immense. But we've made some crucial decisions in the past years and we need to continue on that path in 2021. In the first quarter of 2021, the plans to assess a roadmap for renewables expansion with and without the current guaranteed support system of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). The parts of the power price imposed by political decision often quell what would be possible from an energy and climate policy perspective. That's why we need a solution soon to start the gradual lowering of the EEG surcharge through an alternative way of financing and ultimately reduce the surcharge to zero. Renewables support should end no later than the coal phase-out is completed [2038].

But expansion outside the support scheme has to be boosted simultaneously, for example through a business environment that is more conducive to power purchase agreements. We need a coherent policy package that covers all three pillars of the energy transition: profitability, supply security and environmental compatibility. This will allow for greater innovation and technological openness in expansion. There are still some important policy projects that need to be completed before the (autumn federal) election, for example laws to boost e-car charging infrastructure in buildings, adapt grid expansion, address carbon leakage or renewable energy use in the RED II directive.

How do you think the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences could impact on climate and energy policy?

The pandemic makes an efficient implementation of the energy transition even more important. Excessive support payments need to be curtailed and stronger steering effects need to come from carbon pricing. This is why the European ETS’s scope should be widened to encompass all sectors. The goal in the medium term has to be to synchronise regional pricing systems around the world and create larger markets with more liquidity. This will also help achieve emissions reduction targets in a more cost-efficient manner and avoid a distortion of competition through a unitary CO2 price. In the longer term, this could lead to a global system of effective emissions reduction that is open to all technologies and tackles the global climate change challenge much more effectively.

The government's energy efficiency strategy 2050 is another key element for the energy transition's successful implementation. Supporting the energy-efficient retrofitting of buildings, for example, will create clear incentives for more efficiency in residential buildings, much like the premium for new heating systems.

Determined climate policy has become a standard for almost all the parties. How do the conservatives plan to convince voters that their approach is the best?

We need a climate policy that combines prudence, understanding and foresight without becoming bogged down in politicking and ideology. Only a focus on more market competition and innovation as well as cross-border cooperation will help us achieve the climate targets. The ETS already offers a functioning and effective carbon pricing system for the energy and industry sectors. It makes sure that the Paris Agreement's goals are being met. This is why the ETS should quickly be extended to transport and buildings and why Germany's national CO2 priceshould swiftly be integrated into the ETS. It will be of paramount importance to develop a model that works on a global scale, as only this will ensure that there are no competitive disadvantages for European and German industry through the CO2 price. The ETS could become the nucleus of a global climate action instrument.

Several observers consider a government coalition between the conservative CDU/CSU alliance and the Greens a promising possibility. Where could the two political camps work together well and what do you think could make their cooperation more difficult?

Our task is to campaign with clear offers in terms of candidates and policies, from energy to industrial or social policy. The goal is to make the CDU/CSU once again the strongest party in the German parliament that cannot be sidestepped when forging a government coalition. Voters will decide which combinations are possible and desirable.

In spite of a range of decisions and laws regarding climate action that have been adopted by the current government, many climate experts say that Germany's emission reduction efforts are still inadequate for getting back on track towards reaching the Paris Agreement's goals. According to the conservatives, how could Germany take its efforts up a notch?

Global emissions have risen by 70 percent since 1990. The EU is the only region that has lowered its emissions by about 25 percent. As one of the large industrialised countries, Germany has even achieved a reduction of 40 percent. Our policy approach is working. Proof of this is that we have just surpassed our 2020 emissions reduction target. So, I'd argue that we already are on track.

But climate action is a task that concerns all of society and therefore needs to be brought into harmony with other interests and aims Germany is pursuing. This is why the energy transition should be made more competitive, innovation-oriented and cross-sectoral. This requires intensified international cooperation, for which the European Green Deal has laid the groundwork. But there are two sides to this story: emissions reduction is one side and an effective and competitive industry strategy is the other. The latter needs to be finalised now.

Various NGOs and researchers are calling for a profound reform of Germany's system of energy taxes and levies. What's your view and where does your party stand on this?

One thing is clear: we need to tidy up the toolkit we're currently using. The groundwork for a comprehensive reform of energy taxes and levies therefore needs to be laid now and should be implemented by the next government. Reducing CO2 emissions absolutely has to be the focus here and a mechanism that transcends borders, is open to all technologies, reduces subsidies and ends counterproductive effects while fostering competition and innovation must be at the heart of these efforts.

All texts created by the Clean Energy Wire are available under a “Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY 4.0)” . They can be copied, shared and made publicly accessible by users so long as they give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made.
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