Transport policy: Autobahn, rail, climate protection - the dilemma of the traffic light

It wasn't long after the marathon negotiations between the coalition leaders that a storm of indignation erupted.

Transport policy: Autobahn, rail, climate protection - the dilemma of the traffic light

It wasn't long after the marathon negotiations between the coalition leaders that a storm of indignation erupted. Environmental groups are picking apart the agreements on traffic made by the SPD, Greens and FDP. The main criticism: the softening of a central law in order to achieve climate goals - and a planning turbo on the highway. This is the "last nail in the coffin" for climate protection in transport, complains Jürgen Resch, national director of the German Environmental Aid. Kerstin Haarmann, national chairman of the ecological traffic club VCD, speaks of a "slap in the face".

For many, the transport sector is the biggest "problem child" when it comes to climate protection. In 2022, CO2 emissions increased compared to the previous year, and the annual emissions permitted under the Federal Climate Protection Act were exceeded. Overall, however, greenhouse gas emissions in Germany fell slightly.

Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) would now have to present and follow up on an immediate program. The mechanism in the Federal Climate Protection Act has long been a thorn in the side of the FDP. The heads of the coalition have now agreed on a reform that relieves individual ministers such as Wissing and takes a closer look at the federal government as a whole.

Climate targets in Germany

Greenhouse gas emissions are to be tracked annually and for the different sectors. But 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.

By 2030, Germany wants to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases by 65 percent compared to 1990, and be climate-neutral by 2045 - i.e. not emitting more greenhouse gases than can be stored again. These long-term goals are to be given greater consideration in the future.

Environmental groups fumed. The executive director of WWF Germany, Christoph Heinrich, spoke of a "frontal attack on the climate protection law". The chairman of the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND), Olaf Bandt, stated: "With this, the federal government is changing the curriculum while it itself is failing exams." And the CDU MP Thomas Heilmann complained that the coalition was practically giving up the climate goals for this period. "All fine words are waste," the traffic tears down all goals today and in the future and the Greens provided assistance "by softening the climate protection law to let the FDP get away with it."

Wissing - described by Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) as "very, very good Minister of Transport" - rejected criticism. If overall climate targets were met, there would be no reason for a "blame game" - that is, blame.

More money for the renovation of the railway

One of the most important points: The railways should get significantly more money so that the partially ailing network can be renovated more quickly - and the trains can be more punctual. The federal railways will need around 45 billion euros by 2027 to cover the investment needs. This need is now to be covered “as far as financially feasible”. A large part of the money is to come from a CO2 surcharge for truck tolls, it is expected to be five billion per year - the rest could come from the federal budget. However, according to a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, there is expressly no funding commitment.

Wissing also won another project that was heavily disputed in the run-up to the deliberations: the transport minister originally wanted to build or expand a considerable number of federal trunk roads - the projects should be classified as being in "overriding public interest" and thus be significantly accelerated.

The Greens categorically rejected this. As a compromise, the traffic light now agreed that an acceleration should apply to projects that are traffic jams and bottlenecks. That's a total of 144, but they also include sections of a project. They are mainly in North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse. Wissing spoke of a total length of 998 kilometers, which is 7.4 percent of the motorway network. The goal: fewer traffic jams and smoother traffic.

Wissing speaks of "big shot"

However, the minister did not say how much faster it should go now. Wissing spoke of a "big shot" in planning acceleration, a big thing. However, the overriding public interest should be established in agreement with the country concerned.

For the Greens, the approval of faster motorway expansion is a big toad that they had to swallow - even if the party defended the compromise. To compensate, there are improvements in nature conservation. When building roads in the future, the expansion of renewable energies must be systematically considered - for example solar systems along motorways. The renovation of bridges in particular will be accelerated considerably.

The Greens said that the bottleneck projects in road expansion, which are now to be tackled more quickly, are exclusively expansion projects and not the construction of new motorways. And the FDP originally wanted an acceleration of 6,000 kilometers, including over 3,000 kilometers in the new building.

Praise and criticism of the motorway expansion

Praise came from the ADAC. Transport President Gerhard Hillebrand said: "We need a functional infrastructure for both transport routes. We need the expansion of the rails and we also need investments in the road at bottlenecks and for rehabilitation.".

However, the turbocharger on the Autobahn is heavily criticized by environmental organizations and traffic experts. "The traffic decisions made under the auspices of the FDP are a disaster in terms of climate policy," said Berlin mobility researcher Andreas Knie. "The privileges of the car remain and there are now even more roads for even more cars that produce even more pollutants."

Wiebke Zimmer from the Agora Verkehrswende think tank said that the traffic light was once again giving away the opportunity for quickly effective climate protection in traffic. The acceleration of the expansion and new construction of motorways is not compatible with the priority for the more climate-friendly railway. Resch said: "All effective climate protection measures such as the speed limit, the abolition of luxury company car subsidies and the diesel privilege are not coming. Instead, the decision of the coalition committee even leads to more CO2 emissions." And Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research said it was no use building new photovoltaic systems next to new motorways. "A lettuce leaf in the burger is not a diet change."