Rhein on Energy and Climate

Germany prides itself with being the most progressive country in the world in effectively fighting climate change. It has managed to cut C02 emissions by 20 percent between 1990 and 2007, largely thanks to ending extraordinary energy waste in former communist Eastern Germany and a big push for wind energy.

Germany is therefore already fully in line with the EU-wide 2020 targets for a 20 percent reduction of C02 emissions over 1990. This explains its exuberant confidence, though it has complicated its task by deciding to phase out nuclear power, without a truly convincing strategy how to replace it.

During the last months, the government has taken some 30 additional measures. Their aim is to reduce its emissions by another 10 percent so as to reach, by 2020, a total reduction of at least 30 percent over 1990.

First, Germany will raise motorway user fees for over-15-ton lorries by 10 percent, from 15 to 16.3 cents/km.
The impact on German C02 emissions will be marginal. Lorry traffic will continue to grow, especially in East-West direction, due to the central position of the country. Lorry traffic contributes no more than 5 percent to all German C02 emissions. Whatever impact it may have on individual companies investing in more fuel-efficient trucks will be more than neutralised by the expected increase of overall traffic.

Second, Germany intends to change the annual automobile tax. Instead of basing it on the weight of vehicles, C02 emissions will in future be the basis. This might be fine in psychological terms. It is good to get consumers and car drivers to the notion that more C02 emissions imply higher taxes.

The details still have to be negotiated between conflicting departments. Everything will depend on the progression of the tax rates and whether the new tax will apply only to new or also the existing stock of automobiles. The government will hardly dare to fix tax levels that will induce consumers to radically switch towards automobiles with emissions close to 100g/km! And if it did so only for new cars, which is most likely, the impact will be fully felt only after 2020, when the present stock of automobiles will have been replaced.

These measures complement those being prepared at the EU level, i.e. mandatory reduction of emissions in the power and automobile sectors.

Quite normally, their focus concerns buildings that account for 40 percent of German C02 emissions and that the EU leaves to member states to regulate.

To cope with these, Germany will impose 30 percent stricter standards for thermal insulation and improved heating technologies, for newly erected buildings and substantial renovations of existing ones.

Assuming that the number of new or retrofitted buildings will reach one percent annually of the total stock, the C02 from German buildings might fall by some 30 percent by 2020, the equivalent of 12 percent of total emissions, more than plenty to reach its self-imposed emission target of 30 percent by 2020. The government therefore thinks that, for the time being, more draconian measures for existing buildings are not strictly necessary.

The other measures are a motley package concerning combined heat-power generation, higher user fees for trucks, new transmission lines for renewable power, smart metre systems allowing differential electricity rates according to capacity utilisation, modifications of the feed-in rates for wind and solar energy etc.

Germany’s biggest problem remains its power system largely based on coal and lignite. For Germany a rapid breakthrough towards carbon sequestration is therefore crucial, as it is for Poland. Germany aims at generating 30 percent of its electricity from renewables, largely off–shore wind, by 2020. But it may be forced to halt phasing out nuclear power if all other measures do not yield the hoped for results. This change of paradigm may come as soon as 2009/10 in the wake of a change of government and under pressure from industry not to abandon nuclear technology to France, USA, Russia and China.

In conclusion, Germany is actively engaged in fighting climate change. The population is fully behind the government in doing so. But when it comes to concrete measures, various interest groups may still delay necessary action.

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