Political measures have yet to bear fruit
Today, Germany’s power plants emit around 760 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year to generate heat and electricity. Only 438 million tons will be allowed in the year 2030 – a necessary step towards making the country climate neutral by 2045. Germany now has only seven years to achieve this substantial reduction in emissions. This was once on the political agenda as a 25-year project. The effort increases with each year it gets kicked down the road. The supply of green energy is not growing to the extent that companies and citizens would like, and not enough to maintain the production levels and standard of living we are used to.
The previous government did launch some energy-saving programs and climate protection measures. They failed to have a great impact, however, as the German Council of Experts on Climate Change criticized in its biennial report at the beginning of November. Hans-Martin Henning, chairman of the council and director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), summarized the findings as follows: “In general, we observe that many policy instruments were ultimately unable to fully achieve the desired effects.”
Change is needed in all sectors – but not all are playing their part
In the transport sector, for example, energy consumption has not dropped at all for ten years. And in the building sector, more efficient heating and insulation in residential buildings is offset by the trend towards larger homes, with greenhouse gas consumption falling by only 14 percent since 2015. Rebound effects (see box) have also been detrimental, with energy-efficient technologies like LEDs being offset by increased consumption – more lighting. The report divides energy consumers into sectors and sets emission savings targets for each category according to the respective demands and opportunities on the path to climate neutrality by 2045.
The energy sector, industry, buildings, transport, agriculture and waste management are to contribute in different ways. Energy providers face a particularly steep climb – in 2030, they will be allowed to emit greenhouse gases at levels 77 percent lower than in 1990. The permitted levels for industry are 58 percent lower; for the building sector, 68 percent lower; for transport, 48 percent lower; for agriculture, 32 percent lower; and for waste management, 89 percent lower. While some, like the energy sector, are on a promising path with the switch to renewable solutions, others have been doing little for years. Take the building sector, for example. Property owners dragged their feet on heating upgrades. In rental properties, for example, this is due to the difficulty of transferring investments to tenants in such a way that insulation and heating refurbishments pay off in the short term. In condominiums, negotiations in the owners’ associations often take years. For many privately owned properties held for retirement provision, the owners have no interest in making even greater investments when they are almost ready to sell. The incentives for energy-saving renovations are not sufficient to outweigh these and other obstacles. In the meantime, increasingly strict regulations have raised the pressure to renovate – but Germany now lacks the necessary army of builders and other skilled workers to do the work.