The Green Brief, powered by Habitat for Humanity – Germany’s shambolic Energiewende

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As the world focuses on the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the German government coalition talks are offering a no less fascinating stage for climate policy drama.

Imagine a coal-reliant country with almost double the per-capita CO2 emissions of France that also views itself as a leader in the fight against climate change.

That is Germany, Europe’s self-proclaimed climate champion, which is now turning to fossil gas to compensate for an improvised nuclear phase-out and years of failed renewable energy expansion.

How did we get here? 2011 is probably a good starting point: The anxiety caused by the Fukushima disaster in Japan led the Merkel government to freeze the planned extension of the country’s nuclear fleet and order a full exit from atomic energy by the end of 2022 a decision that was taken almost overnight without consulting the country’s European neighbours.

At first, it may have seemed a wise decision: the costs of wind and solar power were in freefall and Germany was expanding its renewable electricity generation at a rapid pace. The Energiewende was in full swing and countries across the world were enviously seeing the German wind industry as a world leader.

But soon enough things started going awry. In the name of nature conservation, environmentalists formed an unintended alliance with climate change deniers to block German wind turbine permitting procedures.

The result was to stymie the expansion of onshore wind power, effectively putting a stop to the industry’s expansion in Germany. Again in the name of nature conservation (or nimbyism), the expansion of Germany’s electricity grid was also thwarted, preventing abundant offshore wind electricity in the Baltic from reaching the country’s south.  

As a result, Germany now has its back to the wall: it must get rid of 130 TWh of polluting coal-fired power plants by 2038 at the latest while shutting down 64 TWh worth of carbon-free nuclear electricity in 2022.

To make matters worse, Germans are expected to consume an additional 100 TWh of electricity per year by 2030, partly because of the shift towards electric mobility. In total, that means Germany needs to add about 300 TWh of electricity production as fast as possible. 

Caught in the contradictions of its twin coal and nuclear phase-outs, Germany has few other options than to turn to Russian fossil gas imports.

Enter Nord Stream 2, the highly divisive gas pipeline project sowing discord in Europe while poisoning EU-US relations (another unilateral decision taken without consulting EU partners, it must be noted). 

Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor-in-waiting, has openly admitted to Germany’s dilemma: the country will have to “build new gas-fired power plants” to compensate for its lost nuclear capacity. 

Even the Greens have grudgingly accepted defeat, saying Germany “may need some additional gas turbines” in the transition to renewable energy.

All the while, the country will likely continue missing its climate goals. In 2020, Germany was one of 6 EU states to miss its greenhouse gas emission targets under the EU’s Effort Sharing Regulation, alongside Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland and Malta.

Germany may ultimately have the wherewithal to turn its energy transition into a success over the long run. In the meantime though, Europe should draw lessons from the country’s shambolic Energiewende and consider keeping its low-carbon nuclear power generation capacity as long as necessary.

– Nikolaus J. Kurmayer and Frédéric Simon

 


A message from Habitat for Humanity

Discussing energy efficiency. As a side event at the Europe Housing Forum, Habitat for Humanity and USAID are holding the Regional REELIH conference II to scale up energy efficiency renovations of multi-apartment buildings in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Join online on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17, 2021. >> Register Here.


 

This week’s top stories

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News from the capitals

BERLIN. EU Council chief chimes in on negotiations in Berlin. European Council President Charles Michel met with the leaders of the negotiating parties in Berlin as 300 Social Democrats, Greens, and liberal politicians continue to negotiate a “traffic light” coalition. Read more.

LONDON. Return of the dirty man of Europe? The UK government’s Environment Bill, which begins the job of unpicking pieces of EU environmental legislation and setting new post Brexit standards, was finally approved by lawmakers on Tuesday, following a lengthy battle over the amount of sewage released into rivers. The House of Lords had proposed putting a legal duty on water firms to reduce untreated sewage discharges, only for the House of Commons, where the Conservative government has a large majority, to reject the provision. The bill has now been approved after the government agreed to a compromise but Green peer Jenny Jones argued that the move could lead to the UK returning to “the 1970s version of ourselves as the dirty man of Europe” when the UK had some of the dirtiest beaches and waterways on the continent. (Benjamin Fox| EURACTIV.com)

SKOPJE. North Macedonia government declares energy crisis. The government declared a 30-day energy crisis starting Tuesday (9 November) at the request of the Commission monitoring the electricity supply within the economy ministry, Economy Minister Kreshnik Bekteshi told a press conference. Read more.

SOFIA. Bulgaria received an unusual price discount from Gazprom in November. Instead of rising by 32%, as the Bulgarian state gas company Bulgargaz predicted, the price of gas was reduced. In November, the Bulgarian gas price is €46.5/MWh, which is almost two times less than the tariffs of European gas hubs. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian authorities have launched an investigation into the Russian oil company Lukoil Bulgaria for abusing its dominant position in the country’s fuel market. The inspection is on a signal from another leading European company – OMV Bulgaria. EURACTIV Bulgaria’s Krassen Nikolov investigated further. Read more.

GLASGOW. Slovenian environment minister: Climate summit key step for Earth’s future. The COP26 climate conference is a crucial step for the future of our planet and younger generations, Slovenian Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak said at Monday’s press conference in Glasgow, UK. “It is time we act responsibly and move up from good intentions to concrete actions,” he added. Read more.

DUBLIN. Irish climate minister: not enough progress made at COP26. “There hasn’t been enough progress to date either here or at the 25 preceding COPs”, Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan said at the COP26 climate summit on Monday (8 November), broadcaster RTÉ reported. Read more.

PRAGUE | WARSAW. Czechia meets Poland at EU Court after bilateral talks failed. Czechia and Poland failed to agree on a deal that would have led to the withdrawal of a lawsuit concerning coal mine Turów located at Czech-Polish borders. Representatives of the two neighbouring countries will now meet on Tuesday at the European Court of Justice for the first hearing. Read more.

TIRANA. Albania was not prepared for wildfires, defence minister admits. Albanian defence minister Niko Peleshi admitted that the state was not ready or prepared for this summer’s wildfire season that killed two people and devastated thousands of hectares of countryside, orchards, and crops. Read more.

ATHENS. Greece’s wildfire heroes attacked by police. Greek police attacked seasonal firefighters at a demonstration on Friday (5 November) outside the climate crisis and civil protection ministry in Athens. Read more.

TIRANA. Albania to have zero emissions by 2050, no specifics given. Albania has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 20.9% to reach zero by 2050, according to the newly appointed Environment Minister Mirela Kumbaro. Following discussions at the United Nations Climate Conference COP26, Kumbaro said the government has decided to cut CO2 emissions in line with EU countries. The minister did not give any details on how the government would achieve this. (Alice Taylor | Exit.al)

GLASGOW. EU Presidency reaffirms commitment to positive outcome at COP26. Representatives of the EU’s climate negotiating team at COP26, including EU presidency holder Slovenia and its chief negotiator Tina Kobilšek, reaffirmed their commitment to a successful outcome at the UN climate talks during a press conference in Glasgow on Thursday. Read more.

HELSINKI. Renewables cover over half of Finland’s electricity production. Renewable energy sources covered more than 52% of Finland’s electricity production in 2020, a new report released by Statistics Finland shows. This is the first time that renewables made up over half of the country’s energy mix. Read more.

DUBLIN. Ireland falling short of EU wastewater treatment standards, report finds. Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its report on wastewater treatment in 2020, with findings that treatment fell below EU-set standards, 15 years from their 2005 compliance deadline. Read more.

PRAGUE | WARSAW. Polish minister heads to Prague in last bid to fix Turów dispute. Newly appointed Polish Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa will visit Prague on Friday to resume bilateral talks between Czechia and Poland in a bid to unblock the Turów lignite mine dispute. Read more.

BRATISLAVA. Slovakia moves to protect its primary forests. The Slovakian government has approved a plan to join 76 undisturbed forests spread over 6,500 hectares in a new protected area dubbed Primary Forests Slovakia. The reservation will be under the highest level of protection, which should protect local biodiversity. Read more.

ZAGREB. Croatian Central bank to develop own climate strategy. The Croatian National Bank (HNB) said it would develop and implement a climate strategy, including climate and environmental risks in its supervisory expectations, and encourage credit institutions to include those risks in their risk management and decision making. Read more.

 

What’s new at COP26?

“Glasgow is not the end of the story,” said European Commission negotiator Jacob Werksman last week as he updated journalists on progress at the COP26 climate summit. 

Speaking from Glasgow, Werksman said there had been an “impressive outcome” with many countries bringing more ambitious climate promises. The net zero pledges, if fulfilled, could have a significant impact on limiting global warming.

But he quickly curtailed that hope by adding that the promises still aren’t enough to cap global warming at 1.5°C. The current 2030 goals provide little help towards this goal, he warned.

“Much more needs to be done after Glasgow, in terms of keeping that political pressure on to ensure that countries continue to go back and find more ambition in terms of cutting their emissions,” Werksman admitted.

That same caution was evident as lawmakers from the European Parliament made their way to Glasgow. Momentum is growing – more than expected in some areas, thanks to sectoral agreements – but there is still little certainty on how those climate pledges will be implemented, said Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP who spoke to journalists from his Scottish hotel room.

His counterpart, Lídia Pereira from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), echoed his caution. Sat in a Starbucks in a London railway station, she warned her expectations are lower than what was originally envisaged for the summit. But she emphasised there is still room to reach important goals and pledges.

The delegation from the European Parliament arrives in Glasgow as eyes turn from the scattergun pledges of the first week to more complex negotiations. EU lawmakers will focus on driving ambition and speaking to the “key players”, including China, the US and Brazil, according to Pascal Canfin, a French centrist MEP who chairs the Parliament’s environment committee.

Week two is when the “real negotiations” start, according to Eickhout. One such negotiation will be around Article 6, which deals with the international trading of carbon certificates. According to Eckhout, the key to an agreement is to avoid double-counting emission cuts, he added.

Climate finance will play a key role in these negotiations. There is now a clear pathway to reach the $100 billion of climate finance committed to by developed countries – if not by the promised date of 2020, at least by 2023 – said Canfin, adding there will be a push this week to roll that forward to 2022.

Alongside this, the world has seen progress on providing finance for loss and damage, with Scotland pledging £1 million for this. It is not much, admitted Eickhout, but it is the first step into the minefield of providing money as compensation for the impacts of climate change, which opens up the Pandora’s box of liability.

But it is worrying that some countries have taken a step back from the climate summit, said Pereira. Both China and Russia are leaderless at COP26 and their missing signatures form gaping holes on certain pledges, including one on cutting down climate-killing methane emissions.

Overall, it is simply too early to answer the question of whether COP26 has been successful. “Some say that it’s already a failure. Others say it’s a huge success. Probably the truth is there in the middle,” said Eickhout.

Hope was sparked last week when the executive director of the International Energy Agency Fatih Birol said that the new pledges meant we could limit the world’s rising temperature to 1.8°C.

However, many have been highly skeptical of that number. The Climate Action Tracker, which calculates the effectiveness of climate pledges, came out with a far gloomier outlook, saying that Glasgow has a “massive credibility, action and commitment gap” and that the world is heading to at least 2.4°C warming, if not more, based on the new 2030 targets.

While the projected warming from all net zero announcements is indeed 1.8°C, the analysts warned against betting on the idea that every announcement will be fulfilled given the short term steps to get there are yet to materialise.

It also found that the announcements to reduce methane and deforestation celebrated in Glasgow have a negligible impact on cutting down emissions.

The jury is still out on whether COP26 will be seen as a success or not. As EU climate chief Frans Timmermans put it: “The honest truth is that we are not where we need to be. Not even close. We are moving in the right direction, yes, but the world is still too far away from our 1.5°C goal. This week, before we leave this conference, we need to make sure that we take decisions that put us on track to reaching our goal.”

– Kira Taylor

 

News in brief

EU pledges €100 million to adaptation. The European Commission on Tuesday (10 November) pledged €100 million to the Adaptation Fund. The fund has committed nearly $868 million to adaptation since 2010 and the pledge from the EU budget is the largest for the Adaptation Fund made at COP26, according to the European Commission. It comes alongside additional announcements by EU countries and aims to demonstrate the bloc’s determination to scale up climate finance and strike a better balance between mitigation and adaptation, particularly in the most vulnerable countries, the EU executive said. “We have to scale up international climate finance and provide a predictable framework for its delivery,” said EU climate chief Frans Timmermans. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Quitting fossil fuel funding. On Monday (8 November), the Netherlands said it would join a group of countries which have committed to stop public financing of new fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of next year. Dutch building and dredging companies are actively involved in large oil and gas projects across the globe, helped by around €4.5 billion in credit risk insurances guaranteed by the Dutch state.

The United States, Canada and 18 other countries made the pledge to steer spending into clean energy instead of fossil fuels last week, but the Netherlands did not immediately support them. They said a decision to stop this support should be taken by a new government, which still has to be formed more than seven months after the last election.

But that stance shifted in recent days, as opposition parties and climate action groups stressed that the current coalition will likely remain in charge. “The climate summit is now, so there is no use in postponing this decision,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told broadcaster NOS on Monday.

According to environmental NGOs, the move puts pressure on France and Germany, which have not yet signed the statement. Germany, however, has considered it, with Environment State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth saying it is not something they would absolutely oppose, but that they need more clarification. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters)

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COP26 coal commitment unravels further. South Korea has clarified that it will continue to burn coal up to mid-century having signed a statement at COP26 that implied it would bring this date forward to the 2030s. The statement, which also saw Poland confirming its existing coal exit date, said that major economies would phase out coal in the 2030s while the rest of the world would exit in the 2040s.

“We support accelerating the transition to clean power, but we never agreed to a date for the transition away from coal,” said the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. Once again, the debate comes down to whether countries can be considered as a major economy. South Korea is an OECD country and the fifth largest power generating economy.

“The Korean government has lost its climate credibility by signing on to a momentous global pledge and then quietly backpedaling at home. Without a 2030 coal phase-out as demanded of advanced economies, and a stop to ongoing construction of coal power plants, South Korea will not able to shed its title of ‘climate villain,’” said Jeehye Park, coal programme director at Solutions for Our Climate. (Kira Taylor | EURACTIV.com)

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Coal emissions need to stop, says EU commissioner. “Coal is the largest single source of emissions globally and this has to stop,” said Europe’s energy commissioner Kadri Simson at COP26. She added that external coal finance has to come to an end “as an immediate step”. Simson was speaking at COP26’s energy day and highlighted the money the EU has made available to aid a just transition to clean energy. She also emphasised that the current energy crisis is no reason to halt the green transition, saying, “The current situation on the energy markets is no reason to pause the coal exit. On the contrary, it shows the urgency to accelerate the roll-out of clean energy solutions and dramatically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.” Read the full speech here.

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Deal on Paris Rulebook in reach at COP, says US. On Friday, US Climate Envoy John Kerry said it is possible to reach a deal on settling the final details of the Paris Rulebook for how to interpret the Paris Agreement during the UN climate summit being held in Glasgow. Kerry said that the United States is in favor of having the most frequent possible assessments of whether countries are meeting their Paris Agreement goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (EURACTIV.com with Reuters)

 

Podcast

This week our Beyond the Byline podcast travels to Glasgow, where the United Nations climate change conference is being held. We focused on its importance for the future of climate and teething issues the leaders have to discuss. To break down the most critical components of COP26, Kira joined EURACTIV’s Evi Kiorri. Listen here.

 

Opinions

 

Upcoming events

15 NOVEMBER. The role of electrolytic hydrogen in the clean energy transition. Join this EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss what role low carbon electrolytic hydrogen can play in achieving net zero emissions in the EU by 2050. There are still many open questions about definitions, which form of hydrogen will be supported and where research and development will be focused. Confirmed panelists include Christelle Rouillé, the CEO of French startup Hynamics, and Christian Egenhofer from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). (Supported by EDF) 

8 DECEMBER. Energy poverty: how to reduce inequalities? Join Adela Tesarova, Head of Unit, Consumers, Local Initiatives and Just Transition, DG Energy, European Commission, Masha Smirnova, Campaign Manager European Green Deal, EUROCITIES and more  to discuss how addressing energy poverty can help reduce inequalities in the European Union and the role that Member States should play in protecting vulnerable citizens. Programme and registration here. (Supported by PKEE)

 

On our radar

31 OCTOBER – 12 NOVEMBER: COP26. Global leaders will meet in Glasgow, UK, with more ambitious climate pledges and with the aim to finish negotiations around Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

17 NOVEMBER: Deforestation and waste shipment proposals. The European Commission will propose its revision to the waste shipment regulation and a proposal on minimising the risk of imported deforestation.

2 DECEMBER: Energy Council. EU energy ministers will meet in early December in the second session since the Fit for 55 package was tabled. (meeting page). 

14 DECEMBER: Energy, climate, transport and nature protection package. Following the publication of its huge package of climate proposals in July, the European Commission is expected to table more energy-related files, including regulations on natural gas, and proposals on the circular economy. It will also put forward proposals on nature protection. See the full list here:

Climate and energy:

  • Reducing methane emissions in the energy sector
  • Revision of the third energy package for gas
  • Revision of the energy performance of Buildings Directive
  • Commission communication: Restoring sustainable carbon cycles
  • Council Recommendation to address the social and labour aspects of the climate transition

Efficient and green mobility package:

  • Revision of the Regulation on the trans-European transport network
  • Revision of the Directive on Intelligent Transport Systems
  • New EU urban mobility framework
  • Rail freight corridors initiative

Nature:

  • Protecting biodiversity: nature restoration targets
  • Improving environmental protection through criminal law

16-17 DECEMBER. EUROPEAN COUNCIL. EU leaders will meet once again and energy prices are back on the agenda. This time, however, it will be after the gas package has been tabled.

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