Rhein on Energy and Climate

The new coalition in Berlin has defined detailed, though rather vague and ambiguous guidelines for its energy and climate policy.

These are bound to have a bearing on EU policy which will be reviewed in 2014-15 during the preparations of the decisive Paris Climate Conference in 2015 (COP 21).

The coalition had little choice but to continue the outgoing government line of reducing green house gas emissions until 2020 by at least 40% over 1990.

However, it refrains from fixing any intermediate steps for reaching the EU-wide target of cutting emissions by 80%-95% until 2050, while the outgoing government had ventured for a 55% reduction until 2030.The new coalition wants to wait for the results of the 2015 Paris International Climate Conference, which are bound to be unsatisfactory!

In view of cutting emissions the new government will continue to focus on expanding renewable power. By law it will fix the future shares of electricity to be generated by wind, solar, hydro, biomass: 40-45% in 2025 and 55%-60% in 2035.

Compared to a 23% share of renewable electricity generated in 2012 these are not very ambitious objectives, because they imply that in 20 years almost half of Germany’s electricity will still be generated by lignite, coal or gas. This is in line with the basic objective of the new government, especially the Social Democrats not to renounce on fossil power plants in the foreseeable future. The new government is therefore likely to have more sympathy with Poland, the other big champion of coal-generated electricity. This does not promise well for EU climate policy.

As a matter of priority, the government will, of course, have to overhaul the present support system for renewable energy, make it compatible with EU competition rules and abolish excessive subsidies. It will get an indirect support in this job by the announcement of EU Commission to open an investigation and potentially declare the German solar and wind premiums as state aids.

The new coalition plans to put more weight on raising energy efficiency through a “horizontal approach” covering buildings, industry, services and households in the framework of “energy efficiency action plans” starting in 2014 and providing for annual monitoring. That deserves praise; but for the time being these ideas do not go beyond vague indications.

The same goes unfortunately also for the objective of achieving an almost “climate-neutral” stock of buildings until 2050. That is an ambitious objective that deserves full support. The coalition should have been more explicit about the volume of renovation during its four-year mandate and the financial resources- grants, low-cost loans and tax allowances (special depreciation) – to be made available. After all, the future must begin today and a multi-billion programme for improving energy efficiency of buildings should be a major instrument for cutting emissions from heating, the biggest source of emissions, and creating a few million jobs during the next 30 years!

Hopefully, the new integration of buildings into the competence of the Environment Ministry might give an unexpected push to overdue thermal retrofitting of buildings.

In conclusion, the platform for the next German government is disappointing for German and European energy and climate policy in the coming years. It lacks a long-term perspective for enabling Germany to succeed its transition to a non-nuclear industrial country with very low green house gas emissions.

Replacing nuclear power plants by lignite and coal fired ones should not become the purpose of the hasty 2011“energy turn-around “.

If the government fails to be much more forthcoming in its actions than the coalition platform Germany will lose its leadership on energy and climate policy in Europe, which would be a shame for Germany and Europe. Unfortunately this appears to be the most likely outcome considering the integration of the Environment Ministry into Economics Ministry and the first declarations of the new minister to make the defence of German industry interests and low energy costs a priority.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 16/12/2013

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