14 Jun 2023, 19:55
Sören Amelang

New climate action package fails to get Germany on course for 2030 targets

Image by Pixabay.

The German economy and climate ministry has presented a long-awaited climate action package, but the comprehensive policy proposals will remain insufficient for putting Europe’s largest economy on track for meeting its 2030 emission reduction targets. New projections for future emissions show that the transport sector will be responsible for the lion share of the expected shortfall. However, with the planned reform of the climate action law, other sectors will be able to make up the gap – a move heavily criticised by climate activist. The climate package follows a hard-fought compromise on a controversial law to phase out fossil fuel heating systems, and still requires agreement by the government coalition.

Germany’s economy ministry has launched official government consultations on a comprehensive package of climate policy proposals designed to reaching the country’s 2030 targets for emission reductions. Despite the new measures, Europe’s largest economy would still emit a total of 200 million tonnes of CO2 more than planned until the end of the decade.

"The goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent by 2030 has come within reach for the first time," Green economy and climate minister Robert Habeck said

Germany aims to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045. With its Climate Action Law, it has also set the preliminary targets of cutting emissions by at least 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. The new climate action package is necessary because the country is currently widely off track to reach the necessary emissions reductions. According to the government's projection from late 2021 (at the end of the last legislative period), the targets were expected to be exceeded by a total of 1,100 million tonnes of CO2 until 2030 without new measures. In 2022, Germany emitted 746 million tonnes of CO2.

[For details of the climate action programme read the factsheet]

Emissions gap of 200 million tonnes remains

The ministry said the 2030 emissions gap would be reduced by about 70 percent through measures already adopted, and by up to 80 percent including measures already planned, to about 200 million tonnes. The transport sector alone, long considered the energy transition’s “problem child,” is set to be responsible for 186 million tonnes of the shortfall.

Several of the elements of the new package have already been implemented or at least pushed forward since the government took office in late 2021, such as the reform of the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) to formalise new expansion targets, wind power legislation, and amendments to the nature protection law.

Ministerial responsibility weakened

At the core of the reforms now proposed is a shift away from Germany’s current focus on annual emissions reduction targets for each economic sector, and obligatory short-term measures if the targets are missed – to a cross-sectoral view and a focus on 2030. This move was heavily pushed for by the three-party coalition’s smallest member, the Free Democrats who are in charge of the transport ministry. This means if a target in one sector such as industry, transport, or buildings is missed, another sector can compensate for it.

In the future, the central control parameters will be "the forecast of future emission development and the total annual emissions budgets," the economy ministry said in a release. Climate protection will thus become "more forward-looking, more flexible and thus more efficient". If emissions projections for two consecutive years show that 2030 targets for aggregated greenhouse gas reductions are likely to be missed, the government must decide on a programme for all sectors.

NGOs and some climate experts had criticised the weakening of the explicit ministerial responsibility. Brigitte Knopf, deputy chairwoman of the country’s Council of Experts on Climate Change, warned earlier this year this would “increase the risk of future target failures.”

However, the reforms don’t entirely abolish ministerial responsibility: Their emissions will continue to be recorded separately, and proposals for additional measures are to be submitted "in particular" by those sectors responsible for the exceedance, according to the proposals, which are expected to be approved by the cabinet next Wednesday.

Climate protection on the back burner?

Environmental NGOs were highly critical of the reform proposals. Greenpeace accused the government of wanting to put climate protection “on the back burner” with the amendments. “This would be fatal, especially in transport, climate protection laggard. If it has long been proven that the federal government must save an additional 200 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030, then what is needed are effective measures and not new forecasts.”

NGO umbrella group Climate Alliance said a positive aspect of the reform is a continuation of the overall CO2 budget approach with annual emission levels. It also said the focus on emissions forecasts would “enable forward-looking action.” However, the group was damning in its overall judgement: “We have no more time to lose on climate protection, but the German government seems to be abandoning its claim to present a programme that still meets the climate protection targets for 2030.”

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