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Smoke and steam rise from the cooling cylinders and chimneys of a German power station. (Foto: Oliver Berg/dpa)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Oliver Berg

How 'green' is Germany?

Andrea Rönsberg, Warsaw / lw
November 19, 2013

Germany’s climate policy is 'unambitious' says environmental NGO Germanwatch. In their new index, which rates countries on climate policy, CO2 emissions and renewable energies, Germany has slipped far below the top 10.


'Moderate' is the category in which Germany is placed in this year's Climate Change Performance Index. The index measures different indicators including emissions, energy efficiency, renewable energies and climate policy. This last category in particular is the reason Germany has slipped 11 places down the index from last year, landing at nineteenth place in the rankings.

"This drop is due to the fact that at the European Union level, Germany has blocked efficiency guidelines as well as emissions trading reform and climate policy in the motor industry," says Christoph Bals, policy director of the environment NGO Germanwatch.

Germany blocks climate protection

The EU has committed to reducing energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020, aiming to achieve this with the help of the efficiency guideline which, following great contention, came into force in EU Institutions in December 2012. With a view to its own national industry, Germany argued for numerous exceptions and made political agreement difficult.

Arbeiter montieren am 12.06.2013 in der Produktion im Werk Sindelfingen (Baden-Württemberg) die Mercedes-Benz S-Klasse. Die Limousine gilt als Hoffnungsträger des Stuttgarter Automobilkonzerns. Foto: Marijan Murat/dpa
Germany tries to shield its car industryImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In terms of the motor industry, the EU's target aims for car emissions to be capped at 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer - an amount which should reflect the average emissions across the fleet of each car manufacturer, rather than the from individual cars produced. Germany is concerned this will put excessive strain on its own car industry, which unlike other European manufacturers brings larger, heavier vehicles to the market. They produce more CO2 than smaller, lighter cars. A few weeks ago, the German government resisted a European agreement for this reason.

Emissions trading - a central tool in EU climate protection policy - means that companies have to buy the right to emit greenhouse gases in the form of carbon credits. However, there are so many carbon credits on the market that the price is low and trade has become virtually ineffectual.

Evidence of more constructive policy?

After years of dispute, at the start of November 28, EU member states agreed to reform emissions trading. At the heart of the agreement was the idea that 900 million carbon credits should be taken off the market for the time being, and should not be traded until later. That way, the credits on the market will become more expensive.

For Jochen Flasbarth, president of the German Federal Environment Agency, the agreement prompts the hope that Germany will soon play a more constructive role in EU climate protection policy. However, he still sees a lack of sufficient pointers that Germany will also agree to a definite removal of credits from the market.

As it stands, Germany cannot expect to climb back as one of the top-10 climate protectors in Germanwatch's index in the coming year. Ultimately, CO2 emissions also play a role in its place on the index. Having dropped continually over two decades, Germany's CO2 emissions increased this year and last year.

China: cause for hope

Global CO2 emissions are at a record high. But according to Bals, the country with the highest CO2 emissions is a cause for hope - China. While the index still ranks China among the countries with a "poor" climate protection rating, at number 46 China just escapes a "very poor" rating, ranking above Greece for example.

A solar farm on the outskirts of a town in China. (Photo:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en +++CC/Wing+++)
Solar panels produced in China are now being sold on the domestic marketImage: CC/Wing

The People's Republic has two developments to thank for their improved rating. Firstly, the sharp increase in emissions has been curbed. "If you look at the provisional numbers for 2012, you can see that the increase in emissions across the whole of China comes out three times slower than in any other year so far this century," Bals explains.

Bals also sees positive developments in Chinese climate protection policy. "For the first large provinces, China is introducing a policy limiting coal use, which will require a six-percent reduction in coal use yearly," says Bals. He adds that this could be cause for hope that soon, the emissions will stop rising and instead remain at a stable level - even if this level is high.

Implementation often slow

Lina Li from the Chinese environmental organization "Greenovation Hub" is rather less optimistic. Of course there are political developments on a national level, she says. But it would be a mistake to believe that all the decisions made in Beijing are immediately implemented on a local level, she adds.

"Because of the tricky central-to-local government relations, the local governments play a critical role in transforming national policy into local policy - they are important in implementation and enforcement," Li says. "If the local governments only view climate change policy something that they receive and not of their own interest, that needs to change in order for local transformation to be happening."

Dispute between the EU and China

Greenwatch also sees progress in China with regard to the expansion of renewable energies - even if these are not yet taken into consideration for this year's index. For Lina Li, this progress is the positive effect of disagreements between China and the EU over solar panels that the EU feels China is selling too cheaply abroad. "Now the government is forced to focus on the domestic market," says Li. For this reason, the government has set itself the goal of increasing the amount of solar energy almost tenfold by 2015. In terms of expanding wind energy however, there are both political and technical obstacles.

Citizens lack awareness

As Li sees it, China's greatest obstacle in becoming a forerunner of climate protection policy is on a different level. Although the general public have put pressure on the government to cut back on producing energy from coal in order to improve air quality, on the whole, climate protection is not a big issue for the public.

"Public awareness is still at quite a low level - we haven't been able to link climate change to the immediate needs, demands and interests of the citizens yet," she says. "Even with droughts as bad as the ones we had this summer, which really impact on water and food supplies - even with this kind of thing happening, people don't make the connection and therefore aren't pushing for any more resolute policies."

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