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Questions and answers: Why experts do not see Germany on course for climate change

Questions and answers: Why experts do not see Germany on course for climate change

Minister Habeck proudly announced in March that Germany was on track to meet its 2030 climate target. Important advisors to the federal government now disagree.

By 2030, Germany will probably emit more climate-damaging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than is legally stipulated – and will therefore miss its climate target. This is the conclusion reached by the Expert Council for Climate Issues, a scientific advisory body to the federal government, in a special report presented in Berlin. The experts are thus much more pessimistic than Economics and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (Greens), who declared in March that Germany was on track.

Did Habeck cheat?

There is no contradiction in the data itself. Habeck has simply assessed the Federal Environment Agency’s (UBA) forecasts for the coming years more positively than the expert council. And Germany is indeed making progress, including in the expansion of renewable energies, which Habeck himself is committed to.

According to the latest calculations, the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that Germany is allowed to emit between 2021 and 2030 according to the Climate Protection Act would be undercut by 47 million tons – after previously expecting an excess of 1,100 million tons. Habeck’s pride was based primarily on this figure. The chairman of the expert council, Hans-Martin Henning, on the other hand, emphasizes how meager this buffer is: “That is significantly less than one percent of the total budget for this period.”

Why is the expert council more pessimistic?

The committee has made calculations on the probability and, on this basis, does not assume that the climate target for 2030 will be achieved. There are several reasons for this. For example, the predicted emissions in the areas of energy, buildings and transport were underestimated, and to a limited extent also those in industry. The experts also point out that the UBA only included data up to last October. Since then, however, as a result of the Karlsruhe ruling on the federal budget, the important energy transition pot, the Climate and Transformation Fund, has been cut, among other things. In addition, at the time, it was assumed that prices for climate-damaging gas would be higher and that certificates in the European emissions trading system would be more expensive, say the experts. In emissions trading, companies can trade rights to emit greenhouse gases (certificates).

A spokesman for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Protection argued that the expert council had no longer taken some current developments into account. Among other things, he mentioned the package for expanding solar energy and plans to boost the more climate-friendly energy source hydrogen. Henning was unimpressed: the expert council had certainly taken the solar package into account. “Apart from Solar Package 1, we do not see any relevant legislative measures that have been adopted since March that would change our basic assessment that the 2030 climate target is unlikely to be achieved,” he told the German Press Agency.

What about the period after 2030?

According to the goals set out in the Climate Protection Act, this should really be the start of things: by 2040, it should be at least 88 percent, and by 2045, Germany should be climate neutral – that is, it should not emit more greenhouse gases than can be absorbed. But that doesn’t look good. The expert council assumes that the CO2 budget will be exceeded by around ten percent between 2031 and 2040. The targeted greenhouse gas neutrality will probably not even be achieved by 2050, said the deputy chair of the expert council, Brigitte Knopf.

What does this assessment by the expert council change?

From a purely formal point of view, nothing. According to the reformed Climate Protection Act, the federal government must act if there is a risk of missing the target – but only if this is determined for two years in a row. This initial assessment does not oblige the federal government “to take further climate policy action,” says the Council.

However, the experts are putting their finger on the sore spot. Environmental organizations and other experts see their views confirmed. The federal government had glossed over the situation in the spring, says Greenpeace. “With a view to the upcoming budget negotiations, this means that the traffic light coalition must urgently secure future investments in the climate sector,” said Simon Müller, director of the think tank Agora Energiewende Deutschland. Green Party member of parliament Lisa Badum emphasized: “Storms kill in the worst case scenario, as we saw this weekend.” We know that floods, droughts and crop failures are increasing as global warming increases. “That is why, in view of the current flood emergency, we need a willingness to talk about an exception to the debt brake.”

What should happen now in the opinion of the expert council?

It is better not to wait for the second warning shot, says the expert council. Something needs to be done, particularly in the areas of buildings and transport, where Germany is not on track with regard to the European climate targets. There is also a need for improvement in the methodology for climate target forecasts.

A spokesman for the FDP-led Federal Ministry of Transport emphasised: “We are already working on the issue of climate protection in transport.” But that is not so easy, as many vehicles are powered by combustion engines. He and a spokeswoman for the SPD-led Ministry of Construction said that after the reform of the Climate Protection Act, it is now more important that Germany achieves its climate goals as a whole and not just each individual area. A spokesman for the Climate Protection Ministry, however, emphasised that even with the reform, each ministry would remain responsible.

If the target is missed, “there is a need for clarification as to who is in charge in the federal government,” said Henning from the expert council. The council recommends that the federal government quickly set out details in regulations.

Source: Stern

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