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Pulheim power plant, with power lines in the foreground
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany off target

André Leslie
July 23, 2014

Germany’s environment ministry believes it’s unlikely Germany will meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction goals. They say the country will come up seven percent short, but critics say it could be even worse.


Germany's environment ministry has admitted the country is likely to fall short of its future greenhouse gas emissions targets by seven percent. Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has said that Germany is on track to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by just 33 percent in comparison to 1990 levels by the year 2020. This falls short of the country's previously-stated aim of 40 percent.

Greens parliamentarian Bärbel Höhn, says that the goals aren't being met because Germany hasn't done enough to make climate protection a priority.

"Angela Merkel used to be the climate queen of Europe," Höhn told DW. "But since Germany held the EU Presidency [in 2007], not enough has happened."

Höhn says that initial plans to develop renewable energy have been scaled back, and that Germany is continuing to run brown coal power plants without any plan for phasing them out.

"Germany has achieved a lot in the areas of climate protection," Höhn said. "But we have stopped leading by example in the last few years. The same can be said of the EU too."

Could it be even worse?

Höhn, who broke the news on the latest estimates from the environment ministry, says the shortfall could be even bigger, considering that the German government's estimates are based on an economic growth rate of just 1.4 percent.

"Our economic growth in Germany for the last few years has been over two percent," Höhn told DW. "Even if economic growth continues at, say 1.7 percent, then that could mean we finish another two percent short of Germany's emission-reduction goals."

Barbara Hendricks inspects a nuclear waste site
Minister Barbara Hendricks inspects a nuclear waste site: nuclear isn't likely to return soon in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

According to research from the German arm of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) things could be even worse than expected: Germany could actually miss its 2020 emissions targets by 10.7 percent.

Germany's targets of 40 percent reduction by 2020 and 55 percent reduction by 2030, are considerably more ambitious than European targets though. In comparison, Europe is aiming for just a 20 percent reduction by 2020.

Brown coal boom

The shortfall estimate came out on the same day as WWF produced a report highlighting Europe's 30 worst brown coal power plants, entitled "Europe's Dirty Thirty." Four out of the top five worst offenders are in Germany, according to the report.

Environmentalists have been arguing for years that Germany's brown coal industry stands in the way of the country's energy turnaround (known as the Energiewende in German).

But Lothar Lambertz from RWE Power, one of Germany's biggest producers of brown coal energy, says that you can't reduce the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions, down to one industry.

"I can only speak for RWE of course, but I can say that we have done a lot to reduce CO2 levels coming out of our plants," he told DW.

Lambertz says that by renewing their brown coal plants, RWE now produces nine million tons less of carbon dioxide each year. He says that brown coal is a stable and cheap option, especially after Germany turned away from nuclear power following Fukushima.

Deutschland RWE-Kraftwerk in Rommerskirchen
WWF says that RWE's Neurath brown coal power plant is the second worst in EuropeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"If you take 10,000 megawatts out of the network you have to replace it somewhere," Lambertz mused.

Emissions trading problem

Juliette de Grandpré from WWF says that the reason why Germany and other European nations aren't making a bigger impression on greenhouse gas reduction is also due to Europe's main emission reduction instrument, the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Here, polluters are forced to buy permits to pay for their extraneous carbon emissions. Typically, a permit goes for around five euros ($6.76) for any extra ton of carbon produced.

"We have to try to reform the emissions trading system," says de Grandpré. "After all, it's here to stay until 2050 and we need it, because it is the main instrument for reducing CO2."

At the moment emissions permits are priced too low to really motivate companies to reduce carbon output, agree most experts. The low prices come from an over-supply of permits as well as the fact that some companies buy cheaper certificates overseas, says de Grandpré.

De Grandpré and Höhn agree that setting a minimum price for permits, like currently exists in the UK, would be one way of making the emissions market work more efficiently.

The Federal Environment Ministry says, for its part, that a range of measures need to be undertaken if Germany has any chance of getting back on track to meet it's emissions targets for 2020.

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