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Germany to miss climate targets

Irene Banos Ruiz
December 15, 2016

A report released Wednesday by the German Environment Ministry indicates that Germany may not reach its 2020 target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990. Its coal power plants are to blame.

Energiegipfel im Bundeskanzleramt
Image: Reuters

December 14 was probably not a shining day for "climate chancellor" Angela Merkel. Despite her push toward a renewable energy system, a report released Wednesday by the German Environment Ministry indicates Germany might not reach its agreed climate goals by 2020.

Since 2014, the country has implemented several measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990. But environmental activists have warned efforts need to be greater - by 2015, emissions were down by just 27 percent.

According to environmental campaigners including Greenpeace, Oxfam, WWF, Friends of the Earth Germany and the network Klima-Allianz Germany, the gap between government pledges and needed cuts could be more than 20 million tons of CO2.

Greenhouse gas emissions in Germany infographic

Reality hurts

Germany's climate action plan announced that greenhouse gas emission would be reduced by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels. The Ministry of Environment has accepted that this might not be realistic - but it still hopes to reach at least 37 percent.

However, environmental groups have exposed a much more bitter reality: In the worst-case scenario, if serious measures are not further taken, emissions could go down by only 33.5 percent.

Tina Löffelsend from Friends of the Earth Germany appreciates governmental efforts to date, but believes it is not enough.

"For the first time, the government has seriously taken a look at emissions and analyzed if the target can be reached," Löffelsend told DW. "But we have to make clear, the gap is larger than they said, and what they can cover with the proposed measures is less than anticipated."

Nina Wettern, press officer for German Environment Ministry, told DW that they are working hard to reach 2020 climate goals. She added that 70 percent of the measures proposed for the Action Plan 2020 have already been adopted.

'Brown' Germany

"The 2020 targets were agreed to several times by current and previous governments, and if these are not reached, that will cause serious damage to Germany's reputation," Löffelsend said.

Activists against coal mine
Despite protests, coal is still being mined in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/NurPhoto/M. Heine

Although campaigners are quick to highlight how such a failure clearly undermines Germany's international reputation, the country's less green side has been already been documented for some time.

In Germany, power generation currently causes 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions - and more than 40 percent of its current electricity generation comes from coal (brown and hard coal together).

Since brown coal is the most emissions-heavy energy source, phasing this out would be the most effective measure for reducing emissions and reaching climate targets in the short term.

Coal, however, has a very powerful lobby in Germany - preventing a quick phase-out.

Transport as well is a climate culprit, being responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. Compared to 2010, greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 5 percent in this sector.

Next moves

Environmental groups are calling for an immediate climate protection program that would address electricity generation, the transport sector and increases in energy efficiency.

"2020 is the first milestone towards decarbonization targets by 2050," Löffelsend said. Pointing to cost efficiency, she added: "If you wait until 2030, it will be too late."

Cars in Germany
Emissions from the transport sector remains a major challenge for car-manufacturer GermanyImage: Reuters/F. Bimmer

Jan Kowalzig of Oxfam Germany claimed that if Germany fails with this first step, that would negatively impact the Paris climate protection agreement.

According to Löffelsend, the German government must now implement a much more ambitious climate program and reinforce its measures. But above all, coal power plants must be phased out, she emphasized.

"The phase-out is on the agenda - but the question is when it will be happen," she said. "It will be a hard fight, but we will not give up on this crucial target."

For its part, the environment ministry remains optimistic. "Environmental campaigners' critics are important to us, and we will keep working further," Wettern said.

"We are still not to 2020, and there is still time to reach the climate goals."