03 Jun 2024, 13:33
Julian Wettengel

Germany set to miss emissions targets, “climate cabinet” could develop strategy – govt advisors

The Neurath lignite power plant in western Germany. Photo: RWE.

Germany is still set to miss its emissions reduction targets until 2030 and lacks a real strategy for the years that follow, said the country's key government advisors on climate policy. Recent official projections – which had seen Germany largely on track – overestimated the amount of emissions which would be cut in the coming years, said the Council of Experts on Climate Change, which blamed the misjudgement on climate budget cuts and outdated assumptions about gas and CO2 allowance prices. The advisors called on the government to quickly introduce additional measures for the transport and buildings sectors, and proposed the reintroduction of the "climate cabinet" to develop more long-term measures.

Germany is set to overshoot its cumulative greenhouse gas emissions budget for the years until 2030, despite official projections recently suggesting it would meet its target, said the country's Council of Experts on Climate Change.

"We consider the projected emissions in the energy, buildings and transport sectors, as well as – with some reservations – in industry, to be underestimated," said council head Hans-Martin Henning.

The council blamed the misjudgement partly on developments which succeeded the projections, such as cuts in the country's key climate action budget, the Climate and Transformation Fund, following a landmark ruling by the constitutional court. In addition, the expectations for gas prices and CO2 allowance prices in the EU ETS were now much lower, and there were issues with the methodology of the official projections, said the council.

Germany's climate law obliges the expert council to assess the official emissions projections. In March 2024, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) had presented its emissions projection report, which said that Germany is on track to overachieve the cumulative emissions target by 50 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (Mt CO2 eq) until 2030. The report was a surprise, as previous projections had always seen the country widely off target.

Germany aims to become climate neutral by 2045 and reduce emissions by 65 percent by 2030, compared to 1990. In addition, the country has annual emissions budgets for each economic sector (energy, industry, buildings, transport, agriculture, waste) until 2030. Following a recent and controversial reform of the Climate Action Law, the government is obliged to present additional climate protection measures if the expert council finds that projected cumulative emissions in the period 2021-2030 exceed the sector budgets two years in a row.

That means that, should the council find next year that projections show an emissions overshoot, the government would have to come up with additional measures – a task made even more challenging by being in the middle of the national election campaign. Germany is set to hold elections in autumn 2025.

New measures needed in transport and buildings – advisors

The experts called on the government to soon implement additional climate measures. The focus should be on transport and buildings, as these were projected to exceed the target the most, and were especially relevant for Germany's European goals, said deputy council head Brigitte Knopf. The advisors have repeatedly singled out these sectors for additional action.

In addition to national targets, Germany must also reach EU climate targets. The union aims for climate neutrality by 2050. While energy and heavy industry are governed by a cap in the emissions trading system (EU ETS), emissions in transport, buildings and agriculture have joint annual limits under the effort-sharing system. Germany must halve aggregated emissions from these sectors by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

The UBA projections had already warned that Germany would stay within its overall cumulative emissions budgets until 2030 only because the energy sector was set to compensate for lagging progress in transport and buildings. The country would likely fail its EU effort sharing targets due to these two sectors for the years from 2024, UBA said.

If Germany's aggregated emissions in these sectors exceed the limit, the government is obliged to buy emissions allocations from countries which overachieve their target. This could become costly as more and more countries struggle to meet their targets in these sectors, leading to heightened competition for the allocations. Germany already had to buy allocations from Bulgaria, Hungary and the Czech Republic for missing targets in the period between 2013 and 2020.

There would soon be an overshoot of emissions limits in the effort-sharing sectors at the European level, so one would have to assume that there will be no allocations available to buy, said Knopf. "The target miss could also lead to infringement proceedings for Germany."

Other researchers also called on the government to ensure additional action in transport and buildings. "In view of the upcoming budget negotiations, this means that the government coalition must urgently secure future investments in the climate sector," said Simon Müller of think tank Agora Energiewende. "The devastating floods in southern Germany clearly show how the consequences of the climate crisis are already causing a loss of prosperity in Germany today."

No climate neutrality by 2050

Council deputy head Knopf also criticised a lack of government emissions reduction plans beyond 2030. "Overall, there is no long-term strategy for the period after 2030 as to how the goal of greenhouse gas neutrality can be achieved," she said.

The projections say that Germany will overshoot its emissions budgets in the years 2031-2040 by about 10 percent, and "very clearly" fail to reach climate neutrality by 2045. "Greenhouse gas neutrality will also not be reached by 2050, according to the projections," said Knopf.

Government should re-introduce climate cabinet

The climate law obliges the government to tackle these projected shortfalls only from 2030, criticised the researchers. 

"The Expert Council does not understand why it is necessary to wait so long before taking forward-looking climate policy action," the advisors wrote, and called on the government and lawmakers to "speedily" tackle new measures for the period after 2030.

The Expert Council said it sees "the reintroduction of the climate cabinet" as an opportunity to develop appropriate long-term measures. In 2019, former chancellor Angela Merkel set up this group of ministers with responsibilities in key climate policy fields to decide necessary legislation to reach the country’s 2030 climate targets.

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