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COVID helps Germany hit its 2020 climate goal

March 16, 2021

The country has seen its biggest fall in emissions for decades but it isn't just effective climate policy that is driving the change.

An empty German high street
Lockdown measures put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus has also caused a drop in German emissionsImage: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Germany slightly exceeded its national climate goal for 2020, the federal environment agency, known as the UBA, announced on Tuesday.

It was the largest reduction in emissions that the country — Europe's largest economy — has seen in three decades, Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said.

Germany's emissions drop — in numbers

Germany's greenhouse gas output has now fallen by a total of 40.8% since the 1990 levels, the baseline measurement for EU national emission reductions.

This meant Germany just beat the 40% goal set for the country for 2020.

  • German greenhouse gas emissions totaled 739 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2020, according to the UBA.
  • This was 70 million tons, or 8.7%, less than in 2019.
  • Emissions from the energy sector fell by 14.5%.
  • Emissions in the transport sector slumped 11.4%.

Coronavirus pandemic drives the emissions drop

About one-third of the emissions reductions could be attributed to "the coronavirus effect," according to the UBA.

Grounded flights, shuttered shops and working from home during the pandemic contributed to the falls in emissions in transport and in the energy sectors.

Zoom calls save the planet

The only sector to miss its 2020 targets was building emissions.

Schulze said people had spent more time at home with the heating on during the pandemic.

Other factors behind Germany's falling emissions

Policy and structural changes also contributed to the country's emissions drop, after Germany introduced a new climate change law in late 2019.

The sweeping policy package aims for an ambitious 55% reduction from the 1990 levels in Germany's greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

It includes a range of policies, including incentivizing renewable energies, expanding electric car infrastructure and carbon trading. From January 1, 2021, the government began charging €25 ($30) per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions released by the transport and heating sectors.

Lockdowns can't replace climate policy

Despite the positive statistics, both the UBA and the environment minister stressed that Germany had more work to do in reducing emissions.

Pandemic good for the climate?

"We can see that climate policy instruments are beginning to take effect, in particular the expansion of renewable energies and CO2 pricing. But, without the lockdowns placing restrictions on production and mobility, Germany would have missed its climate target for 2020," the UBA's Dirk Messner said.

"Catastrophes and economic crises cannot replace sensible climate policy and sustainable restructuring of our economy," Schulze said.

kmm/aw (Reuters, dpa, AFP) 

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