Global comparison reveals Germany’s ‘Energiewende dilemma’

Among the world’s 58 largest CO2 emitters, Germany ranked 22nd in the Germanwatch study. [Roland Peschetz/Flickr]

Swelling CO2 emissions from coal-fired power generation hurt Germany’s score in the latest global climate protection index compiled by the NGO Germanwatch. But the government’s latest action plan could bring about positive change. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In contrast to previous years, Germany scored average results in an annual climate change study conducted by the environment NGO Germanwatch. Among the world’s 58 largest CO2 emitters, it ranked 22nd.

The NGO blamed Berlin’s continued support of the coal industry.

“The so-called ‘Energiewende dilemma’ – the considerable increase in coal power generation alongside simultaneous expansion of renewable energies – has been damaging Germany’s climate balance,” explained Jan Burck of Germanwatch. Burck is the author of the NGO’s Climate Change Performance Index, which was released on Monday (8 December) at the Climate Conference in Lima.

Now, Germanwatch is particularly hopeful of the German government’s recently-approved climate protection package, Burck said.

Along with measures for improving energy efficiency, the provision includes plans for a 2015 law reducing coal-fired power generation. German Economic Affairs and Energy Minister Sigmar Gabriel announced intentions to cut 22 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. The plans are likely to hit coal-fired power plants the hardest.

“We must more than double our efforts,” emphasised Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks a few days ago. “In the past, we really did not do enough for climate protection or to reach the CO2 reduction goal of 40%.”

If the German government passes the new law on coal reduction and rigorously implements the entire programme, Germany will have a good chance at improving its ranking in the next Climate Change Performance Index, Burck indicated.

Despite the worldwide increase in CO2 emissions, the environment organisation notes positive signs for climate protection. The study recorded a decoupling from CO2 emissions and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as from CO2 emissions and primary energy consumption. At the same time, the study indicated that many states sought to move away from harmful coal generation and push the expansion of renewable energies, especially China, the largest CO2 emitter.

Mixed results in the EU

Three EU member states top this year’s Climate Change Performance Index: Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom (ranked 4-6 respectively). A common thread among all was a boom in renewables accompanied by falling emissions.

Because no country is doing enough to avoid exceeding the two-degree-limit, however, Germanwatch left the first, second and third places in the ranking empty.

Meanwhile, the EU also has climate wrongdoers: Poland is in 40th place, Bulgaria 41st and Estonia only 46th. These are the result of opposition in many Eastern European countries to a stricter climate protection policy.

“Neither the current 2020 nor the new 2030 climate target are in line with the reductions needed by Europe to avert catastrophic climate change and achieve 100% renewables by 2050,” said Wendel Trio, director at CAN Europe.


According to Trio, the EU must urgently improve in the coming years, giving up subsidies for fossil fuel energy, continue to drive energy efficiency and fundamentally reform EU emissions trading.

The last places in Germanwatch’s ranking were filled by industrialised countries Canada (58) and Australia (60) as well as Kazakhstan (59) and Saudi Arabia (61).

The climate protection index consists of 15 criteria, which each fall into one of four categories: “emissions”, “efficiency”, “renewable energy” and “policy”.

By releasing the index, Germanwatch hopes to have a positive impact on the climate negotiations in Lima and help them come to a successful conclusion.

Lima paves the way for the more decisive Paris Climate Summit in 2015. There, negotiators will assemble an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol with binding climate targets for all 194 members of the UN Climate Framework Convention.

“Coal is under growing pressure worldwide”, said Burck, “Now it is essential that the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 send a clear signal to investors, national governments and citizens – as opposed to the weak result of the 2009 Climate Conference in Copenhagen.”

Only if global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to almost zero over the next 90 years, will it be possible to limit global warming to 2 degrees compared to pre-Industrialisation levels and thereby maintain sustainable costs. This is the conclusion of the fifth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from November 2014. The report serves as the basis of this year's World Climate Conference, which takes place from 1-12 December in Lima, Peru. The 21st Climate Conference in Paris next year will be the world's last chance to implement measures for limiting rising temperatures to 2 degrees by 2050. 

To reach its self-defined climate targets for 2020, the German government recently passed a legislative package. It includes a National Action Plant for Energy Efficiency (NAPE) and the Action Plan on Climate Protection 2020.

Central elements of NAPE are a proposal to introduce tax incentives for energy-saving renovations, boosting the CO2 building-renovation programme and competitive tendering for energy-saving projects with an expected annual funding budget in the hundreds of millions. Part of the Climate Protection Action Programme is a requirement for coal- and gas-fired power plants to reduce CO2 emissions by an additional 22 million tonnes by the year 2020. This is equal to emissions from about eight large hardcoal or lignite plants. Next year, the government intends to set up a climate law to guarantee the plan.

Germanwatch: "Climate Change Performance Index" (8 December 2014)

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