19 Mar 2024, 13:58
Franca Quecke Benjamin Wehrmann

Germany urges tighter global energy cooperation to bring climate targets within reach

Ministers Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue. Photo: BETD

The global growth of renewable power sources is an encouraging trend for climate action but needs to be better coordinated to ensure international targets are met, according to Germany’s economy and foreign affairs ministers. Highlighting the recent success in Germany to put the country on track towards its national 2030 climate targets, economy minister Robert Habeck at the government's energy transition conference BETD in Berlin said resolute planning and implementation could lead to international targets also being met. However, since not all countries use the same resources to reach their goals, mutual assistance is needed to achieve a comprehensive shift away from fossil fuels, he argued. International Energy Agency head Fatih Birol at the conference said there are encouraging signs that the use of fossil fuels can be overcome, but stressed that this does not mean the world is on track towards reaching climate targets.

Greater international cooperation and mutual support are needed to ensure the global energy transition is put on track towards reaching climate targets, Germany’s ministers for the economy and for foreign affairs, Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, have said. At the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue (BETD), a conference hosted by the Germany government to bring together international energy transition actors, the ministers stressed the need to ensure the transition away from fossil fuels is globally coordinated and accelerated.

Habeck said Germany’s progress in growing its renewable power capacity is a reason to be optimistic. Since the first BETD conference was held in 2015, Germany raised its renewables share in the electricity system from about 30 to over 50 percent, and now aims for a share of 80 percent by the end of this decade. “And we’re on track to get there,” the minister said. To ensure that enough renewable power is made available for green hydrogen production and transforming the national industry, Germany could not afford to lose pace, he added. National challenges - supply security after the loss of Russian natural gas deliveries, then high energy prices - over the past two years had dominated Germany’s energy policy landscape. But Habeck said that now “our energy supply is secure in every respect,” while prices are dropping.

This allowed the country to become more outward looking again and focus on long-term energy policy goals, Habeck argued. The government had implemented several important steps on the path to a fully renewables-based system in the past months that “have truly taken us forward”. The fact that Germany, for the first time, is on track towards reaching its 2030 climate targets showed how resolute planning and implementation can help countries cut greenhouse gas emissions, the Green politician said. The challenge now was to ensure that this happened in tandem with economic growth and development in poorer countries. A faster roll-out of renewables would help this aim, he argued. Habeck said he is particularly concerned about a “fragmentation of the world”, global crises and wars, protected markets, and increasing nationalism. "This is not a good trend." New partnerships need to be forged, particularly in renewable energies, hydrogen, and ammonia, he added.

The question of “who is ahead economically and technologically” is becoming more important with respect to ensuring a “just expansion of renewable power,” foreign minister Baerbock said. While some countries already source nearly 100 percent of their power from renewable sources, about 600 million people in Africa alone still lack reliable access to electricity, she added. This gap must be overcome without relying on fossil fuels, the minister said, calling for an “explosion” in the worldwide expansion of renewable power sources. Since not all countries could draw on the same financial and technological resources for accelerating their transition, mutual assistance and cooperation are needed to foster renewables expansion around the world, she argued. 

Jennifer Morgan, special envoy for climate at the German foreign office, said the conference offered an opportunity to exchange best practices and discuss further steps for better global coordination of the energy transition. Implementing the UN climate conference COP28’s decision on renewables would require diplomatic efforts to “bring the results from paper into reality,” she argued. Germany could contribute its experiences from deploying renewables and build on its bilateral energy partnerships with more than 30 countries.

In Germany, renewable power companies are ready to tackle the goal of an energy system which is 100 percent based on renewable power, including for heating, mobility, and industry, said Simone Peter, head of the German renewable power industry’s lobby group BEE. “For this to happen, the next step in the energy transition’s evolution is needed,” Peter argued. This includes an updated power market design, better grid infrastructure, and a flexible power back-up consisting of bioenergy, hydro, and geothermal power plants as well as energy storage capacity and cross-sectoral power use. “We need even greater ambition and binding targets for concrete measures to incentivise investments from the private sector,” she added.

"Fossil fuels will reach their peak still within this decade" - IEA head

The energy transition is moving very fast in many advanced economies but remained too slow in other parts of the world, said Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The upcoming UN climate conferences in Azerbaijan and Brazil should therefore focus on financial mechanisms to ensure a reliable roll-out in poorer countries. “The energy sector is like a major tanker for which you want to change the direction,” Birol said. But there are encouraging early signs that a move from fossil fuels is well under way, particularly the decline in coal power investments, he argued. “We believe that all fossil fuels will reach their peak still within this decade,” the IEA head added. However, despite these reasons for optimism, the world is not yet on track towards meeting the Paris Agreement’s targets, Birol stressed.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) used the BETD to present a new report on the required tripling of annual renewable power expansion to comply with the targets set out at COP28 in Dubai. While 2023 had been a record year for the buildout of renewable energy technologies, which grew 473 gigawatts (GW) globally, at least 1,100 GW in new wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewable technologies would be needed annually until 2030 to stay on track, the agency said. A range of factors conducive to a faster expansion had come together in 2023 to propel the global roll-out, including successful policies, geopolitical influences and a drop in deployment costs, the agency said. However, to boost expansion further and triple annual expansion by 2030, more internationally concerted efforts are needed, it added. This meant joint measures aimed enhancing related infrastructure, training workers and securing funding for new projects. Globally, the “energy transition remains off track,” said IRENA head Francesco La Camera. “We urgently need a systemic shift away from fossil fuels to course-correct and keep the tripling goal within reach.”

Economic research institute ifo earlier this week released an analysis on the benefits of tighter energy cooperation in the EU. The researchers urged EU members to step up coordination in reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Closer relationships within the bloc could not only reduce dependence on fossil fuel exporters, but also cut power prices and help countries reach their climate targets. “A further integration of European power markets and gas grid is indispensable for better compensating regional shortfalls,” the ifo analysis found. Efforts should be focused on a better coordination of support policies, transforming the gas grid to hydrogen and ensuring sufficient funding for transforming the power system without amassing public debt, for example through phasing out fossil fuel subsidies or “adequate” carbon pricing. 

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