Climate: expert council criticizes traffic light climate plans

The traffic light coalition's plans to relax the requirements of the Climate Protection Act are met with skepticism by independent experts.

Climate: expert council criticizes traffic light climate plans

The traffic light coalition's plans to relax the requirements of the Climate Protection Act are met with skepticism by independent experts. With the change, the Council sees "an increased risk of missing the targets for reducing emissions," said the chairman of the expert council for climate issues, Hans-Martin Henning, on Monday in Berlin. However, some points can be seen as improvements. However, the Council emphasized that a final assessment would only be possible once a concrete legislative proposal had been submitted.

Germany has set itself the goal of reducing its emissions of greenhouse gases by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. Germany wants to be climate-neutral by 2045 - i.e. not emitting more greenhouse gases than can be stored again.

With the planned amendment, it is unclear whether a savings target should apply precisely to a specific year or for the entire period up to that point, said Henning. They are emphatically advocating sticking to the previous "budget idea" for a whole period of time. A change would probably also violate the groundbreaking climate protection judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court from 2021.

So far, the annual emissions of greenhouse gases have been recorded separately for different economic sectors. If an area (sector) exceeds the annual quantities that are compatible with the German climate targets, the responsible federal ministries must draw up so-called immediate programs for more climate protection.

The credibility question

The traffic light wants to stick to this annual survey of greenhouse gas emissions for each sector. According to the decision of the coalition committee, the federal government should only make adjustments in the future if the data indicate that the climate targets for 2030 will not be met for two consecutive years - for all sectors together. This tends to weaken the responsibility of the respective ministers, said Henning. "Without going into more detail now, we don't understand what advantage it would have for the achievement of goals if political measures were only decided if the applicable criterion was met for two consecutive years."

The deputy chair of the Expert Council, Brigitte Knopf, recalled that so far no area is in such a good position that it can compensate for missed targets elsewhere. She compared the planned reform to good intentions in sports. The federal government is currently having to undertake a detailed fitness program with running, swimming and a “run around the lake” at the weekend. With the planned reform, the government simply stated in April: "Well, maybe I'll just say I want to get fitter by the end of the year. And then the question is whether that's credible and how far you can get with it."

It is positive, however, that every new federal government should create a climate protection program and that future forecasts (projections) should be made for emissions in the years 2035, 2040 and 2045 based on the latest emission data, said Henning.

Greenpeace: "Resounding slap in the face for climate policy"

The executive director of Greenpeace Germany, Martin Kaiser, called the report "a politely worded but resounding slap in the face for the climate policy of the federal government". Stefanie Langkamp from the Climate Alliance Germany explained: "Instead of immediately and effectively reducing emissions in the transport and building sectors and securing the future of all of us, the federal government now wants to abolish the regulations that oblige each individual sector to act."

FDP representatives, however, defended the plans. Group Vice President Carina Konrad emphasized that it is by no means a matter of softening the climate protection efforts, rather they would be "more reliable and more cost-efficient". "In addition, we avoid severe and disproportionate cuts in the mobility of citizens in our country. Climate protection is only possible with the citizens and with an eye on modern technologies." The Green MP Lisa Badum was resolute: "The law must not be perforated. As the responsible Green reporter, I will not agree to an unconstitutional climate protection law. Departmental responsibility must not be dropped."

With regard to the greenhouse gas emissions of the past year, the expert council largely confirmed the figures that the Federal Environment Agency published in March. Accordingly, emissions fell slightly by 1.9 percent. Around 746 million tons of greenhouse gases were released, a good 15 million tons less than in 2021. Economic growth, which was lower than expected due to the Ukraine war, dampened emissions by 9 million tons.

The building and transport sectors exceeded their target values. Although the building sector reduced its emissions by around 6 million tons in 2022 compared to the previous year, it still exceeded the target of 107.4 million tons with more than 4 million tons of emissions, according to the test report. With a total of 111.7 million tons, the sector has missed its targets for the third year in a row.

The transport sector also grew for the second time in a row. Emissions there increased by 1.7 million tons to 148.5 million tons. The target value was clearly exceeded with 9.7 million tons too many CO2 equivalents. For better comparability, other greenhouse gases are converted into CO2 equivalents, based on their respective contribution to global warming compared to carbon dioxide. All other areas were able to meet their targets, although emissions in the energy sector increased significantly - more hard coal and lignite was burned there.

Regarding the shutdown of the last three German nuclear power plants last weekend, Henning said that the exit increases the ambition to expand renewable energies. However, the Council did not deal with this issue in its entirety.