It was a sentence she should have been too embarrassed to say. At the World Economic Forum in January, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) complained that in “the great challenge to humankind, climate change,” the international community would have to make do “without the United States of America, unfortunately”. The US president is well-known for his commitment to fossil energy.
But in the last twelve years, Merkel too has presided over three governments with a dismal track record of climate failure. It is now official: Germany will not just miss its own self-imposed carbon target for 2020, but also the less ambitious but legally binding targets prescribed by the EU. It may even have to pay a penalty as a result. During preliminary coalition talks, the Union parties and the Social Democrats were forced to acknowledge that the 2020 target of cutting carbon emissions by 40 percent – adopted in 2007 by those same parties – could no longer be met. All that has been achieved is a 27 percent reduction, compared to the baseline year 1990.
On top of this, a second fiasco has now been announced: the 2020 climate targets imposed by the EU for the transport, buildings and agriculture sectors are also effectively beyond reach. “As things currently stand,” the targets cannot be met, said a spokesperson for the Federal Environment Agency, explaining that Germany is simply not making enough progress in its climate efforts. The admission was prompted by the carbon savings report that Berlin is required to submit to the European Commission each year. With just two years to go until the 2020 deadline, there was no sugarcoating the truth.
Problem areas: transport and agriculture
To avoid being in breach of contract, Germany will now have to make up for the shortfall by purchasing emissions allowances from other member states that surpassed their targets. The Federal Government has a commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent relative to 2005 levels in sectors which, unlike electricity production or industry, are not covered by the European emissions trading scheme. In previous years, Germany was always able to meet and even exceed its annual targets. However, in 2016 Germany went over budget for the first time – by 1.8 million tonnes, according to ministerial sources.
Its main problem area is transport, where emissions actually rose. But agriculture too is failing in its carbon-cutting obligations by a wide margin: emissions in the sector have not fallen since 2000. Just how expensive the climate debacle will turn out to be for Germany remains unclear. As numerous member states are expected to have surplus emission allowances to sell in 2020, the amount might not be too drastic. However, the political embarrassment of going from carbon frontrunner to straggler is likely to weight more heavily – particularly as comparable countries with similar EU commitments like France (minus 14 percent), Sweden (minus 17 percent) or the Netherlands (minus 16 percent) are on track to meet their targets.
No lack of criticism
The increasingly obvious failure of Germany’s climate policy to deliver results has met with outrage from environmental bodies. Conservation organization WWF said that missing the two targets would be tantamount to a declaration of bankruptcy, and predicted that “wealthy Germany will become a climate policy laggard in the EU.” Friends of the Earth Germany called for a mobility revolution and a departure from the trend towards bigger, heavier and more powerful cars, accusing the Federal Government of idly standing by for decades and “even supporting the auto industry in its environmentally harmful activities.”
Further criticism came from the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW): “It is crucial that the transport, heating and agriculture sectors are finally also subjected to carbon pricing,” said chairman Stefan Kapferer, adding that the transport sector in particular is way behind on its carbon reduction responsibilities.