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21 Apr 2021, 16:38
Julian Wettengel

High stakes for Europe’s largest industrial nation – German reactions to EU climate law deal

Photo shows EU Commission building berlaymont. Source: European Union.
Source: European Union.

German politicians have welcomed the deal concluded by EU lawmakers on a climate law that enshrines the goal of climate-neutrality 2050 and a more ambitious 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target. However, conservatives and industry cautioned that the European Union’s climate policy could only be a role model for others if the bloc also succeeded in preserving prosperity, competitiveness and jobs. Green lawmakers and NGOs criticised the agreement as a “watered-down compromise” that employed “accounting tricks” for the new 2030 target, and said the Union should have delivered more for this week’s Leaders’ Summit on Climate organised by U.S. President Joe Biden. [Update adds Köhler, Beutin, BDEW, BEE]

German politicians have welcomed the EU deal on its major climate law, reached one day before a climate summit organised by U.S. President Joe Biden on 22-23 April.

Economy minister Peter Altmaier welcomed the deal, saying the EU now has “a unique opportunity to advance and reconcile climate action and the economy,” and environment minister Svenja Schulze called the climate law “trendsetting.” “The EU climate law creates firm guard rails for politics and business in Europe. For the first time, climate targets are anchored in European law,” said the minister. Schulze added that the most important phase in reaching Paris Agreement goals is starting now, by working towards the new 2030 target. “For Germany, the decision means that we will also significantly increase our pace in climate action.”

Schulze called on other large economies – “above all the U.S. and China” – to introduce more ambitious climate targets.

Stephan Stracke, deputy parliamentary group leader of Germany’s governing conservative CDU/CSU alliance, cautioned that EU climate policy could only be a role model if the bloc also succeeded in preserving prosperity, competitiveness and jobs. “The stakes are particularly high for Europe's largest industrial nation,” he said.

European lawmakers have reached a deal on introducing a major climate law, which enshrines the EU's commitment to reaching climate-neutrality by 2050 and the target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. After months of negotiations, representatives from the European Parliament, the Council of member state governments and the European Commission reached the late-night deal, which “sets the stage for tougher rules that will affect industries ranging from transport to energy production,” wrote Ewa Krukowska for Bloomberg.

Member states divided over implementation of European Green Deal – survey

The 55-percent target is lower than what the European Parliament had voted for, but EU member states made a concession to MEPs by agreeing to cap the contribution of carbon removals from land use, agriculture and forestry, reported Frédéric Simon for EurActiv. The deal also includes a commitment to negative emissions after 2050 and the establishment of European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change that will provide independent scientific advice. In addition, the lawmakers agreed on a process for setting a 2040 climate target and recognised the need to enhance the EU's carbon sink through a more ambitious LULUCF regulation (Land-Use Change and Forestry), for which the Commission will make proposals in June 2021.

The decision is a key step in a long legislative process. The European Commission had made a first proposal in March 2020, and the member states’ leaders agreed their negotiating position in December. They decided to raise the 2030 climate target to “at least 55 percent,” but the European Parliament demanded more ambition, which led to the now completed trilogue negotiations. The provisional agreement must now formally be approved by both Parliament and Council.

What exactly the new 2030 climate target means for member states depends on a legislative package currently being drafted by the European Commission. Raising the target will require a set of actions across all sectors of the economy, and the Commission plans to present proposals to reform all major energy and climate legislation by June 2021 – the “Fit for 55 package.” Whilst it is not yet clear how much of the policy will be EU-wide measures and instruments, member states can expect to be asked to increase their climate action efforts.

Germany could have to reduce emissions by 62-68 percent from 1990 levels compared to the current target of 55 percent, the new Expert Council on Climate Change recently said in its first major report.

The details of the “Fit for 55 package” are set to be contentiously debated in both the Parliament and among member state governments over the coming months – and in some cases even years – before they can be enacted. A survey conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) shows that EU member states are publicly committed to the European Green Deal but are divided over the details of its implementation. They have different views on issues such as the proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism, the role of nuclear energy in Europe’s future energy mix, bridging technologies in the transition to net zero, and the socio-economic consequences of closing down carbon-intensive industries, said the think tank. As they agree or disagree with one another in varying constellations depending on the issue, the implementation of the European Green Deal – and thus also of the „Fit for 55 package” – will be “an intricate puzzle,” said ECFR.

Government and politicians

Peter Altmaier, economy minister

Altmaier welcomed the deal. “With clear long-term goals, we now have a unique opportunity to advance and reconcile climate action and the economy. We can secure jobs and create new ones by investing in innovation and new clean technologies.”

Svenja Schulze, environment minister

Schulze called the climate law “trendsetting.” “The EU climate law creates firm guard rails for politics and business in Europe. For the first time, climate targets are anchored in European law,” said the minister. Schulze added that the most important phase in reaching Paris Agreement goals is starting now, by working towards the new 2030 target. “For Germany, the decision means that we will also significantly increase our pace in climate action.” She called on other large economies – “above all the U.S. and China” – to introduce more ambitious climate targets.

Stephan Stracke, deputy CDU/CSU parliamentary group leader

“The stakes are particularly high for Europe's largest industrial nation,” Stracke said. “European climate policy will only become a global role model if it succeeds in achieving greenhouse gas neutrality while at the same time preserving prosperity, competitiveness and jobs.” He said that a lot of work and discussions are necessary to decide the right instruments to reach climate-neutrality 2050. He called on the EU to remain open to all available technology options and focus on innovation and market-based solutions, such as the German CO2 price on transport and heating fuels.

Michael Bloss, MEP (Greens)

Bloss criticised the deal. “By failing to establish a serious climate target without accounting tricks in the European Climate Law, the Green Deal fails to live up to the big speeches of the Ursula von der Leyen-led Commission. With this deal, the EU does not meet the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement. The European Parliament was not able to push through concessions from member states, which was a massive opportunity missed to establish Europe as a green pioneer.”

 

Lorenz Gösta Beutin, energy and climate spokesperson for the Left’s parliamentary group

The new climate target brings no climate justice, said Left Party MP Lorenz Gösta Beutin. “Climate action without justice is a dead end,” he said. “If one calculates seriously, an emissions reduction of 55 percent, including the accounting of so-called sinks, is not nearly enough for the EU to make its fair contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement,” he said, and added the EU must become climate neutral by 2040.

 

Lukas Köhler, climate policy spokesperson of the pro-business FDP parliamentary group

Free Democrats MP Lukas Köhler said the 2030 goal is an “ambitious and necessary interim target on the way to climate neutrality 2050” and called for the right instruments to reach it. He called for the integration of all emissions sources into emissions trading, instead of “ineffective and expensive attempts to reduce greenhouse gases through petty regulation and bans.”

 

Industry and business

German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW)

Energy industry association BDEW head Kerstin Andreae said the new 2030 target is “ambitious, but achievable”. She called on the Commission to now set the right framework to reach the goal with the Fit for 55 package, and for an overhaul of rules for state aid in the areas of environment and energy. “Although we should always strive for the most level playing field possible, this endeavour must not lead to the necessary investments in the energy transition and climate action being prevented or delayed.” She added that agreeing an interim target for 2040 would avoid uncertainties that could be a hurdle for necessary investments.

 

German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE)

Renewable energy federation BEE president Simone Peter used the decision to reiterate the organisation’s call for stronger renewables expansion in Germany. She said the agreement “provides clarity for the adjustments of national legislations, even if science and environmental associations doubt that this target is sufficient to comply with the Paris Climate Agreement.” The new EU target calls above all for a rapid adjustment of Germany’s renewables expansion targets and quantities, she added.

 

German Chemicals Industry Association (VCI)

The German Chemicals Industry Association (VCI) called on the EU to ensure “concrete measures to adequately protect the industry from international competitive disadvantages” when reaching the ambitious new target, especially when reforming the ETS. “Climate action and industry need each other; transformation does not happen at the push of a button,” said managing director Wolfgang Große Entrup. VCI called for a “massive” expansion of renewables to meet the future electricity needs of the industry, the realisation of a hydrogen internal market and support for innovation.

German Association of Local Utilities (VKU)

Ingbert Liebing, managing director of local utilities association VKU, said that the targets now have to be substantiated with concrete measures and suitable instruments. “This requires clear processes between Brussels and Berlin. We can no longer afford the eternal back and forth, for example in approval procedures under state aid law,” he said. He added that the German government should take up the baton from the EU and introduce more realistic renewables expansion targets.

 

Research and science

E3G

The climate law is a significant step for the EU’s climate action, yet still lacking against the Paris Agreement commitments, said think tank E3G. “The deal puts the EU much closer to a credible trajectory towards climate neutrality and the establishment of an independent Union advisory body will facilitate the streamlining of climate commitments across EU policy and support the Union in addressing future challenges in a timely and scientific way,” said policy advisor Elisa Giannelli. She cautioned that the real test will now follow with the upcoming reforms of sectoral policy ranging from clean energy, heavy industry and transport to fossil gas.

Clean Air Task Force Europe (CATF)

The non-profit climate and energy advocacy group and think tank CATF said it was “happy that the European Union has made a positive step in the right direction.” However, it called for significant measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions this decade. “Aggressive action to curb methane emissions is probably the single most impactful climate action available,” said CATF, and also called for a focus on commercialising the next generation of decarbonisation technologies in all sectors.

 

NGOs

Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR)

The environmental umbrella organisation Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR) criticised the outcome as insufficient in the fight against the global climate and biodiversity crisis and as a weak signal ahead of the international climate summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. “The protection of forests and peatlands is of central importance,” said DNR president Kai Niebert. “Effective climate action needs both: increasing sinks and reducing emissions.”

WWF Germany

NGO WWF Germany criticised the deal as a “watered-down compromise” with which the EU fails to make a “fair contribution” to global climate action. The agreement retains “the accounting of so-called sinks, such as forests and soils, despite great criticism from science and civil society. This means that the target of 55 percent will de facto be lower and is characterised by great uncertainty,” said the organisation.

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