Germany veers off from 2030 climate goal

The German government faces a carbon dioxide (CO2) gap of 200 million tonnes when it comes to reaching its 2030 climate target, largely due to a lack of action in the transport sector.

Germany’s ambitious climate law, adopted in 2021, aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 65% relative to 1990 levels by 2030.

The law was the product of demonstrations by youth climate activists, which led to a landmark ruling by Germany’s Constitutional Court ordering the government to take urgent action to protect their future.

However, it seems increasingly unlikely that this objective will be met.

“The climate gap we inherited [in 2021] amounted to 1,100 million tonnes,” explained Robert Habeck, the country’s minister for economy and climate action, who presented a reform of Germany’s climate law on Wednesday (14 June).

The government says it managed to reduce this “inherited” CO2 emissions overshoot down to 200 million tonnes.

But it is facing its biggest remaining hurdle: the stubborn transport sector.

Under the German system, every ministry that misses its annual climate target is meant to present an emergency plan to close the gap.

When it came to power in December 2021, the energy sector alone was projected to emit 500 million tonnes (mt) of CO2 above its allowed limit. Transport stood at 271 mt CO2 overshoot, and buildings at 152 mt.

The energy and buildings sector made the biggest progress. Pushed by the Russian gas crisis, the German government laid the ground for a boom in solar and wind deployment and a switch to cleaner electric heating in buildings.

But in transport, the remaining overshoot is projected to hit 118 mt of CO2 by 2030, according to projections from the transport ministry – or the equivalent of Belgium’s total annual emissions. Experts at the economy and climate ministry, who are less optimistic, put the overshoot at 175 mt of CO2, equal to the yearly emissions of the Netherlands.

But instead of stepping up action in transport, the government has decided to abolish the sector-specific climate targets and gap-filler mechanism with a new monitoring system to indicate whether the German economy is on track to meet its climate target.

The new system will apply this year following a March government coalition deal with the liberal FDP party, which is in charge of the transport ministry and criticised the sectoral approach for being inefficient.

“Instead of a planned climate economy, the German government coalition focuses on flexibility without weakening climate targets. In short: We are turning climate policy upside down!” said Lukas Köhler, a leading FDP politician.

New measures for transport
Critics, meanwhile, say a whole economy approach could hide a lack of climate action in the sectors concerned.

As part of the revised climate law, Habeck’s Green party insisted on banning fossil fuel boilers as of 2024, a deadline that could be pushed back to 2028 under the latest government coalition deal.

The German government also agreed to tax heavy road transport by levying a carbon tax of €200 per tonne of carbon emitted for heavy-duty vehicles, in addition to the highway toll.

“A weighty step in climate policy,” said Habeck, who expects the extra carbon cost will incentivise a switch to cleaner trucking. The new charge is expected to apply before the end of the year.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Alice Taylor]


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