Germany Emission Reduction Challenges

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Leading Emission Reduction Challenges: (a) Rising consumer demand for energy-intensive products; (b) Dependence on fossil fuels as energy sources, especially coal


Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 0.7%, from 902 to 908 million tons of CO2 between 2014 to 2015, according to the Environmental Ministry. This means that, by virtue of their Climate Action Programme, Germany will have to reduce greenhouse gases by 12.8% over the next 3+ years to reach a targeted 40% reduction by 2020.

German energy industries have consistently contributed to the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, composing 38% of 2015 levels. Households experienced a 3.5% increase in their emissions for the same year, lending to the fear that as individuals shift to renewable alternatives their consumption habits become more environmentally harmful. The Ministry pointed to an increase in household electricity consumption of 18.4% between 1990 and 2013, pointing to information and communication behaviors as a dangerous contributor to this trend.

Yet above all else, Germany’s coal consumption poses the most serious threats to their intended commitments. 26% of Germany’s energy consumption is derived from coal production, which fuels industrial output for high value-added goods. Greenpeace and other organizations have continued to stress the urgency in cutting back and phasing out coal investments, particularly in power plants and mines.

This is difficult to achieve considering the strength of lobby groups, such as Euracoal, who are not ready to commit to renewables. Moreover, the recent Brexit movement has not helped EU countries to transition to renewables. Since the UK’s departure, emissions allowances, as per the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), fell from a price of around 5.7 euros per ton of CO2 to an all-time low of less than 4.7 euros, creating greater economic incentive to upscale non-renewable demand. Germany operates under the EU ETS as a measure for industries to abide by EU standards. Additionally, they must submit independent National Allocation Plans to the EU Commission. Since 2014 Germany has been advocating for a universal minimum allowance price for EU ETS members to prevent market shifts like Brexit influencing industry-level climate initiatives.

Commonly-cited estimates indicate that Germany must more than double its renewable energy production by 2040 to reach their commitment to 1.5°C global temperatures, which would be at a manufacturing rate that is 3 to 6 times faster than presently. This translates to an annual production rate of 1,320 Tw/h, seemingly unlikely given most reductions will have to be made in transport, energy, and heating sectors. The German Chancellor’s Renewable Energy Act was implemented in 2000 in an attempt to shift 40 – 45 percent of power consumption to renewables by 2025, compared to 32.5% in 2015. However, recent reforms have not helped meet this target, mainly because contracts with renewable energy suppliers would be changed in such a way that would make it more expensive for households and small-medium enterprises to invest, but easier for larger businesses. This is because it had shifted the economic mechanisms of investing in renewable energy from feed-in tariffs, which offer long-term contracts with decreasing costs over time, to auction schemes, which generate market prices for investments and are offered to the highest bidder.

The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) has recently taken a social approach to fighting coal in Germany. In a report titled “Europe’s dark cloud: How coal-burning countries make their neighbors sick,” the WWF estimated that, due to emission-related issues, if Germany were to completely phase out coal they could prevent more than 1,860 premature deaths domestically and over 2,500 in neighboring countries. The organization also pointed to the necessity in reforming the EU ETS, calling on the Industrial Emissions Directive and National Emissions Ceilings Directive to “introduce stricter pollution limits.”

Submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Roland Selinger

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