19 Dec 2017, 00:00
Benjamin Wehrmann

Preview2018 - WWF calls for German climate policy emergency programme

Michael Schäfer is head of climate protection & energy policy at environmental organisation WWF Germany. Photo: Stefanie Loos
Michael Schäfer is head of climate protection & energy policy at environmental organisation WWF Germany. Photo: Stefanie Loos
Germany enters 2018 without having found a new government, a situation that casts a cloud over all of the country’s major policy endeavours including those dealing with energy and climate. But irrespective of the unprecedented difficulty in forming a government, the Energiewende will continue to be one of Germany’s central policy projects. Whether the country can still reach its imperilled 2020 carbon emissions reduction targets and what this means for the future of coal-fired power production is set to be at the heart of the energy transition debate. The Clean Energy Wire has asked climate and energy professionals about their view on Germany’s agenda 2018. In this article, Michael Schäfer, head of climate protection & energy policy at WWF Germany, says the country needs an emergency programme for its climate policy.

CLEW: Which topics or events are going to shape German energy and climate policy in 2018?

Michael Schäfer: The question of how we will phase out coal will definitely be one of the key issues of German climate policy in 2018. The numbers clearly show that a decrease in our coal consumption must happen soon and on a large scale. Otherwise, we will breach our pledge to the Paris Agreement. The longer we postpone this inevitable development, the smaller our chances will be to make it a just transition. Germany cannot be the home of the Energiewende and keep relying on coal at the same time.
The transformation of the transport sector will be a second key issue. So far, it has not contributed at all to our efforts in the fight against the climate crisis. On the contrary, emissions have risen in recent years. But with the current set-up, we not only harm the environment but also our health and our economy. If the German car industry does not shift to more sustainable models, it will cut the ground from under its own feet. We therefore urgently need a holistic mobility concept in Germany, one that promotes e-mobility and is less dependent on cars overall.

Do you think that Germany can achieve its self-imposed goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels? What needs to happen to achieve the target or to at least come close to achieving it?

Right now, we are facing a gap of 156 million tonnes of CO2 to reach our 2020 goal. We can still close this gap but only with a big effort. So far, not too much has happened and emissions in Germany have not decreased over the past eight years. If we stay on our current path, we will look at a decrease of about 32 percent in 2020, rather than 40 percent as promised. Many measures that could and should be introduced now – such as tax credits on retrofits, energy efficiency regulations for buildings and a transition towards electric mobility – would be very conducive to our 2030 goal, but still cannot save enough CO2 to reach the 2020 goal. Only one measure can deliver that: a coal phase-out.
We need an emergency programme for our climate policy in Germany. If the government does not show that it is willing to take strong measures aimed at the 2020 and 2030 goals, it will lose credibility internationally. That would harm its effectiveness in international climate negotiations, which could still be witnessed at the G20-meeting in Hamburg, where Chancellor Angela Merkel was able to hold 19 out 20 member states together. This might no longer be possible if Germany does not walk the talk.

What are the most pressing energy and climate policy issues that have to be tackled in 2018?

On a broader international level, we need to increase ambitions to fulfil the Paris Agreement. The EU in particular needs to step up its game and increase its nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) and it needs to do so before 2020. This will be of particular importance in the run up to the Talanoa dialogue in Poland at the COP24.
Of course, this is not going to be easy, as there are countries within the EU that are willing to block any increase in ambitions. Because of that, the European forerunners must unite to push for more ambition. One important measure would be to implement a minimum price for CO2 in addition to nationally phasing out coal and nuclear power.

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