Five million Germans watched their future Chancellor debate environmental issues on Sunday (29 August), amid calls from prominent think-tankers who highlighted Germany’s legal obligation to cut emissions 65% by 2030.
With the election campaign dominated by climate change, Germany’s incumbent parties are fighting to defend their environmental track record.
“Apparently you have no idea,” Green chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock told conservative hopeful Armin Laschet during a debate about the social impacts of Germany’s new carbon pricing policy. In place since January 2021, the measure has been criticised for raising the cost of household heating.
All candidates agreed that increasing the price of heating fuel and gas would negatively impact the poor, either because of the regressive nature of the measure or because landlords would simply pass on the extra costs to their tenants.
Laschet proposed to abolish the renewable energy charge aimed at subsidising the country’s renewable energy expansion, a sentiment shared by his social democrat rival Olaf Scholz who said landlords should bear the carbon price for heating.
Baerbock on the other hand proposed a flat €75 annual rebate payable to all citizens via their tax ID while proposals form the other two candidates would result in a reduction of €300 for a household of four, they said.
But even though candidates were perceived to clash primarily over climate issues, all three will ultimately be subject to the same climate ambition mandated by the country’s climate law.
They also agree on how to get there: rapid renewable energy expansion combined with electric mobility and hydrogen in hard-to-abate sectors of the economy in order to maintain the country’s industrial prosperity.
Where they disagree is on how to get there with the least amount of social upheaval and on issues like how to speed up permitting for onshore wind energy.
Experts expressly not anxious
Following Sunday’s debate, a group of prominent German think-tanks on Monday (30 August) released a list of 22 environmental recommendations for the new government, saying failure to implement those during the first 100 days in office would jeopardise the country’s climate goals.
“We need to double to triple our speed everywhere,” said Patrick Graichen, director of Agora Energiewende, one of the think-tanks behind the report.
The paper, which was also authored by the Climate Neutrality Foundation and Agora Verkehrswende, warns that Germany is currently set to miss its 2030 target of cutting emissions by 65%.
To reach that goal, Germany must cut emissions in its energy sector alone by 160 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent by 2030, the report notes. In total, the next German government must ensure that 372 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions are cut by 2030, which is more than twice the emissions from the Netherlands.
In June, Agora Energiewende published its 50 recommendations for the new government. Critical issues listed in there include bringing Germany’s coal exit forward to 2030, tripling onshore wind power expansion rates and tripling solar photovoltaic capacities by 2030.
The country’s updated renewable electricity targets are under particular scrutiny in this regard. The German ministry of economy and energy was indeed forced to revise its 2030 electricity demand projections upwards by more than 10% las month, just one year after the figures were first published.
The think-tank report also looks forward to the upcoming negotiations over the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ climate and energy package of legislation, in which Germany will play a key role.
They largely advise the new government to support the proposals made by the EU Commission on 14 July, while suggesting to diverge from the Commission’s position on the revision of EU environmental state aid guidelines and to push for more flexibility for EU states in energy tenders.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]