Germany's new coalition promises climate revolution

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Germany's new coalition promises climate revolution
© Provided by The leaders of the three parties in Germany’s new coalition government delivered an agreement on Wednesday that was heavy on climate ambition

As Germany’s new coalition government — comprising center-left Social Democrats (SPD), environmentalist Greens and the business-focused Free Democrat Party (FDP) — readies to take power, it has made bold climate policy the cornerstone of the alliance.

An agreement thrashed out by the three parties was released this week and includes climate measures designed to keep Germany “on the path to 1.5 degrees” Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit), promised Robert Habeck, the Green Party co-chair and Germany’s likely next vice-chancellor.

The measures include phasing out coal power by 2030, eight years ahead of the current schedule, powering 80% of the electricity grid with renewables within a decade and putting 15 million electric vehicles on German roads by 2030. The deal also proposes phasing out gas for power by 2040 and setting a minimum carbon price of €60 per ton ($68).

A new “super” Climate and Economy Ministry, to be headed by Habeck, is to provide the bureaucratic muscle to implement the ambitious measures.

A ‘world-beating’ climate deal

In the wake of the disappointment over the COP26 climate pact’s watering down of a coal exit, environment groups and climate analysts initially welcomed the broad thrust of Germany’s new climate measures.

“The text provides important impetus for climate policy and nature conservation,” environment NGO Friends of the Earth Germany wrote in a statement. “We expressly welcome this progress compared to the previous government,” the environment campaigners added. Still, they cautioned that the climate goals would not ensure a pathway to 1.5 degrees C.

Charles Moore, from London-based energy and climate think tank, Ember, said that the scaling up renewables to power 80% of Germany’s energy grid by 2030 is a “really bold commitment” — especially when coupled with the promise to put millions of electric cars on the road by the end of the decade.

“It’s a vote of confidence in our electric future and the decarbonization of our energy system,” he said. “There is a sense that it’s world-beating.”

Moore worked on a 2020 report detailing Germany’s failing energy transition due to a heavy reliance on coal. But the new climate agenda has made him more optimistic. The rapid scaling up of clean wind and solar energy combined with a minimum carbon price of €60 ($68) will “finish coal by 2030,” he said.

“My worries about coal in Germany are vastly diminished,” he said in the wake of the coalition announcement. He added that he believes the climate deal accords with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) prescription that increased renewables capacity is the quickest, cheapest and most efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Are commitments sufficient for 1.5 degrees?

While coalition politicians claim the policies they agreed on will put Germany on the path to 1.5 degrees, others are less certain. Friends of the Earth Germany said it “views this with great skepticism,” due in part to the lack of specific “annual expansion paths” for onshore wind and solar. It added that the climate neutrality date of 2045 “is too late for 1.5 degrees.”

Climate activists from Fridays for Future had been demanding that a 1.5-degree commitment be central to the German coalition government negotiations, yet were also left underwhelmed by the outcome.

“Measured against the failure of the grand coalition, we are seeing progress,” wrote Fridays for Future Germany, referring to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government in its analysis of the new climate measures. “Measured against the reality of the climate crisis, this government program is not enough.”

There is also concern that the 2030 coal phase-out commitment is non-binding — the word “ideally” was inserted into the pronouncement — and that the natural gas phase-out date signals an attempt to transition from oil and coal with “the next fossil climate killer.” Gas has controversially been touted as a “cleaner” bridging fuel as green energy sources, like solar and wind, are ramped up. That date would be 10 years too late to maintain a 1.5-degree pathway, said Fridays for Future.

“The coalition wants to build new gas power plants and claims that gas is critically necessary for the transition,” said Deborah Ramalope from Climate Analytics, a global climate change research institution. “This is not true and could lead to profound fossil fuel lock-ins.”

Ramalope, an environmental scientist, is also concerned that coal phase-out language is too vague and “is not a concrete commitment.”

She added that decarbonization of the power sector would be served better by a coal phase-out by 2029, according to a Climate Analytics analysis. Their modeling also showed that Germany could increase its share of renewables in the energy mix from the 80% promised by the coalition to nearly 90% by 2030.

Meanwhile, a 65% emissions reduction target by 2030 below 1990 levels “is close,” explained Ramalope, “but not 1.5C compatible.” Around 70% would be required.

Coalition needs to deliver

For Charles Moore of Ember, the commitment to “ideally” phase-out coal by 2030 was “disappointing” as it missed an opportunity for Germany to “send a stronger international message on coal.”

Nonetheless, analysts say the new climate measures, in terms of both coal and gas, are very realizable.

“A German power 2030 coal/2040 gas phase-out are both extremely achievable,” tweeted Oslo-based climate analyst and authorKetan Joshi.

Ramalope says a “deep transformation” towards what the IEA calls “a clean, dynamic and resilient energy economy dominated by renewables” is, in principle, underway in Germany.

“Now they need to deliver,” she said.

Author: Stuart Braun

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