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14 Aug 2020, 15:45
Julian Wettengel

Germany set to reach original 2020 climate target due to pandemic – researchers

Photo: VCD/Markus Bachmann.
Road transport significantly contributed to emissions reduction, but was almost back to normal by mid-June. Photo: VCD/Markus Bachmann.

Germany will likely reach its original target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by the end of this year, compared to 1990, estimates by researchers from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) show. Due to the effects of the coronavirus crisis, CO₂ emissions in the energy and transport sectors fell significantly. However, emissions in road transport for example were almost back to normal levels by mid-June, and it is uncertain whether the crisis will lead to significant long-term changes in behaviour. [Update adds quote on 2020 target not abandoned & background info on the paper.]

Germany is set to reach its original target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent between 1990 and 2020 thanks to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. According to estimates by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), carbon emissions in the first half of 2020 fell by about 64 million tonnes (between 41 and 77 MT CO₂) compared to the same period last year.

The researchers estimate an overall reduction in the range of 67 MT CO₂ for the whole year, as long as the pandemic does not lead to significant additional reductions. This translates into a reduction of 41 percent from 1990 levels, assuming that emissions in the agriculture and waste sectors, which were not included in the calculations, as well as other greenhouse gas emissions such as methane remain unchanged.

The coronavirus crisis, combined with favourable conditions in the electricity sector, is likely to have led to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions throughout the first half of 2020. Renewables covered about half of Germany’s power consumption, while coal production plummeted. Overall energy use could drop by up to 12 percent if the pandemic leads to another economic lockdown situation, energy market research group AG Energiebilanzen (AGEBsaid recently.

The researchers used a global study and applied it to Germany. They only looked at CO₂ emissions for the period 1 January-11 June in the transport, buildings, industry and energy sectors and states that it depended on policy measures whether emissions will continue to sink or bounce back following the pandemic. 

The paper was prepared for the environment ministry for as background material. The ministry told Clean Energy Wire that the results should not be seen as fully robust, due to the adaptation of international calculations to the German situation.

Significant reduction in the energy and transport sectors

“We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to meet the climate targets, even if this is of course not the way we want to go about it – namely, at the expense of the economy,” MCC Secretary General Brigitte Knopf told public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk (Dlf). The largest contribution came from the energy sector with a reduction of about 42 MT CO₂ in the first six months of this year, largely due to the reduction in power production from fossil fuels. Reduced road transport also contributed a significant amount (12 MT CO₂). “People stayed at home, worked at home, and so there was less car traffic,” Knopf told Dlf. Going forwards, there is also the chance of long-term behaviour changes – less travel for work, more home office – that lead to less emissions, she said. However, the researchers caution that road emissions were almost back to normal by mid-June. 

With the coalition agreement from early 2018, the German government had watered down the original 2020 target and said it should be reached “as fast as possible”. A spokesperson from the environment ministry told Clean Energy Wire that the government never officially gave up the 40%-target. However, with the climate action law from December 2019, it has introduced a legally binding emissions budget of 813 million tonnes CO2 equivalents, which roughly translates to a reduction of only about 35 percent over 1990 levels.

“On the basis of forecasts, we came to the conclusion that a precision landing in 2020 could be unrealistic,” said the spokesperson. “However, we have always stressed that we want to reach the target as quickly as possible at the beginning of the 2020s. It is important that we move quickly towards our 2030 target of minus 55 percent and achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 in the long term.”

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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