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Germany too slow for climate targets

February 26, 2016

To meet targets set at the climate summit in Paris, Germany must accelerate its switch to clean energy. A new study commissioned by Greenpeace says the country needs to opt for 100 percent renewable power by 2035.

JUWI solar cells and wind turbines.
Image: JUWI/Fotograf: Jan Hosan

At the UN climate conference in Paris almost 200 countries agreed to increase their climate protection efforts. The aim is to keep global warming below 2 degrees – or better still, below 1.5 degrees. To achieve this goal, greenhouse gas emissions need to be drastically reduced – and eliminated completely in the second half of the century.

This is a huge challenge for almost any country. But Germany is generally seen as way ahead . The transition to renewable energy is a major political project, with broad support among politicians and the public.

Yet a new study commissioned by Greenpeace shows that even this climate protection pioneer must work a lot harder if it is is to stand a chance of meeting the targets set out in Paris.

The study by the NewClimate Institute looked at the measures Germany would need to put in place to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

Berlin press conference, Greenpeace
Höhne and Böhling present the study in Berlin.Image: Christoph Rasch/Greenpeace Energy

Carbon neutral power supply from 2035

The institute found that to achieve the 1.5 degree target, CO2 emissions must be eliminated from energy production by 2035. “Only in this way can warming be kept well under 2 degrees, towards 1.5 degrees Celsius without running the risk of needing to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere,” the report says.

The authors believe industrialized countries like Germany should lead the way on climate protection, reducing emissions faster than developing countries. “This is because of the historical responsibility of industrialized countries for climate change and to allow for the development of emerging economies,” they write.

So what does the 1.5 degree limit mean for Germany?

Faster energy transition essential for 1.5 degree target

“Renewable energies play a key role in the rigorous implementation of the Paris climate targets in Germany. Their growth must be accelerated,” said Niklas Höhne, of the NewClimate Institute, presenting the study in Berlin. To achieve the 1.5 degree target, renewable energy must account for 100 percent of Germany's energy consumption by 2030, and for 100 percent of heating, industrial energy use and transport before 2035.

Electric car.
Electric cars are still a rarity in Germany.Image: DW/G.Rueter

The study found that Germany must renounce coal and lignite, which account for a large share of the country's electricity production, even earlier.

“The planned exit from lignite, or brown coal and hard coal for power production must be substantially accelerated. “The exit must happen by around 2025, other fossil energy sources for electricity production – like gas – must be replaced by 2030,” the study concluded.

Meanwhile, a radical transformation of the transport sector must take place. Electric cars are still a rarity in Germany. For the 1.5 degree target, that has to change – and fast.

Efficient buildings and transport

In parallel with the switch to renewable energy, action must be taken to reduce consumption. Traffic from cars needs to fall by around 1 percent per year, to be replaced by public transport and bikes, according to the study. And targets set so far for electric mobility don't go far enough; full electrification of the transport sector is needed by 2035.

There is almost as much to be done in the building sector, the authors believe. To achieve the 1.5 percent target, energy-saving retrofits need to happen five times faster than at present, and new buildings need to meet much more stringent energy efficiency standards. “By 2035 at the latest, the building sector must be fully renovated, to produce zero emissions,” the summary reads.

Fischedick calls for urgent action.
Fischedick calls for urgent action.Image: DW/K. Danetzki

Honest discussion

“The Paris climate agreement is a huge challenge for politics and society, and calls for more honesty and decisive government action,” said Greenpeace energy expert Andree Böhling. “The study is a stock-taking exercise. We now want an open discussion about what must be done to reach the climate targets,” he told DW.

Other energy experts agree that the 1.5 degree target demands considerably stronger efforts.

“The majority of scenarios from the IPCC show that even the two degree target can only be achieved through negative emissions, assuming political action doesn't suddenly switch to a 100 percent focus on climate protection,” said IPCC another Manfred Fischedick, vice president of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. “A target of 1.5 percent indeed requires considerably more effort.”

Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research stressed that giving up coal and increasing efficiency were key priorities.

“To achieve the climate targets, the energy transition cannot be stalled,” she said. “The coal exit must be put in place promptly, and energy saving must come to the fore.”

A recent study for the German government found that the country would miss its climate targets with current measures.

“By 2020, Germany will only have cut greenhouse gases by 32 percent compared to 1990 levels – clearly missing its target of 40 percent,” writes author Joachim Nitsch. According to Nitsch's calculations, to reach the Paris targets, renewable energy generation would have to be expanded three times faster than planned.

Government prepares post-Paris plan

The federal government is currently working on a new climate protection plan, to pin down how the Paris agreement will be implemented. It plans to pass the plan this summer.

Deutschland Umwelt Bundesumweltamt Jochen Flasbarth
Germany's climate negotiator Jochen Flasbarth.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Government experts know that more must be done. “We need a development path for renewables well above what is currently being planned,” said state secretary Jochen Flasbarth, who represented Germany at the climate conference. “We are now in a situation that raises concern and we must be careful not to get into difficulties.”

For the German Green Party, those difficulties are already apparent. “The Greenpeace study is a warning,” said Green member of parliament Oliver Krischer. “We want to be a leader on the international stage, but at the same time put the brakes on renewable energies and climate protection – that won't work. The government must take the energy transition seriously and take action.”

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