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Germany can be virtually CO2-free by 2050, says new study

While EU environment ministers met in Luxembourg on Tuesday to discuss the future of the bloc's climate protection policy, a German study unveiled the country's own strategy for the reduction of carbon emissions.

A wind farm visible in the distance, with a golden rapeseed field and tree in the foreground

The study claims that a 95-percent reduction in CO2 is possible

The EU negotiations are something of a pre-cursor to the UN Climate Change Conference, to be held in Copenhagen in December. There, the heat will be on world leaders to thrash out a new treaty to prevent global temperatures from rising more than two degrees above pre-industrial age levels.

And to pull that off, climate researchers say, will require a 95 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It is a tall order, but is it realistic?

WWF Germany, the Institute for Applied Ecology and the Prognos Institute of Futurology say it is. In their new joint study, they show what an industrialized country like Germany has to do in order to reach targets.

The study, called "Modell Deutschland" ("Model Germany"), outlined three ways forward and stressed that if Germany follows the correct path it can reduce its CO2 emissions by up to 95 percent - as compared to 1990 - without compromising living standards.

The futurologists at the Institute for Applied Ecology have assessed the industrial, societal and political steps which would lead to a 10.7-ton per capita emissions reduction by 2050.

Timely action is needed

A smoking chimney and electrical wiring obscure a blue sky

Industry is just one source of CO2

The first model showed how things would look if Germany's current climate protection efforts continued without any change. A result which Almut Kirchner of Prognos said was very interesting.

"We saw that we would still be a long way from the goal, with only a 45-percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050," he said.

So the researchers came up with an ambitious plan, one which would span all areas of life in Germany. Felix Matthes, a contributor to the study from Institute of Applied Ecology, says it is important to see the bigger picture.

"If the CO2 reduction plans are not adapted to the current situation, CO2 reduction will either be impossible or extremely expensive," Matthes said. "This means, for example, that buildings should be insulated when they are due for renovation. And nuclear plants should be replaced when they are due for modernization."

Matthes calls this the "rule of timeliness," meaning that if good opportunities for emission reduction are not seized, then not much can be done later on to reach the climate protection goals by 2050. He also stresses the role of infrastructure.

"We will only achieve electric mobility if we have a smart electricity network," explained Matthes. "And we can only sequester CO2 emissions underground if we have suitable pipelines for that."

Faith in renewables

A rectangular solar panel standing on a plain

Renewable energy plays a crucial role in CO2-reduction

Matthes sees Germany's largest CO2 reduction potential in the use of renewable energy for electricity, traffic and heating, and also highlights the importance of using energy efficient electrical appliances. Such measures, he believes, can eliminate 60 percent of emissions. But that is still not enough.

"For the remaining third, you have to make changes in industrial processes, farming and waste management. And you have to make sure that forests maintain their ability to absorb CO2."

Farming has a greater role to play in the reduction of CO2 than is generally believed, and Matthes says even eating less meat would reap rewards. Cows, for example, are a great source of methane, which is a highly active greenhouse gas.

As unlikely as it is that Germany would be willing to wholeheartedly embrace vegetarianism, Matthes and his co-authors on "Modell Deutschland" see their study as a realistic concept for an almost carbon-free country. And they hope it will serve as a guide for the coming generations of politicians and industry heads.

Author: Richard Fuchs (ew)

Editor: Tamsin Walker

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