April 13. 2024. 5:40

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Is Germany still the climate champion it pretends to be?


Germany likes to portray itself as a climate action champion, but political infighting within the three-party coalition in Berlin is threatening to derail the country’s lofty plans.

Following months of bickering over climate legislation, including a proposed ban on new gas boilers, the three ruling parties locked themselves in the chancellery last week to try and bridge their differences.

The eye-to-eye meeting between the socialist SPD, the Greens and the liberal FDP yielded a compromise, which some have likened to a second coalition treaty.

But critics say it also deals a major blow to the country’s ability to achieve its climate goals.

In 2019, Germany adopted a landmark climate protection law. Featuring annual targets for sectors like transport and buildings, the law was hailed as a major achievement by the climate movement. The targets were further tightened after the country’s top court found that the constitution mandates climate protection in the interests of future generations.

To activists, this all came crashing down last weekend. After more than 30 hours of top-level negotiations, the government agreed a compromise that would abolish these sectoral targets and water down other initiatives – a move immediately denounced by campaigners as a climate “catastrophe”.

By 2030, Germany still aims to reduce its emissions by 65% relative to 1990 levels before achieving climate neutrality by 2045.

But this target is now tempered by the government’s reluctance to observe annual targets for individual sectors.

“What we are experiencing … is abysmal,” said Luisa Neubauer, the figurehead of the German youth-led climate movement. “Now they decided to shred the most important aspects of the law,” she added, addressing a crowd at an event titled: ‘Scrapping climate targets – how dare you’.

In Germany, 81% of citizens already believe that the government will fail to achieve its climate targets.

So how will the coalition agreement impact Germany’s ability to meet its climate targets?

The thing that worries activists most is the weakening of the sectoral targets. Where previously, missed sectoral targets in transport or buildings would trigger a legal obligation to address the issue, the new rules would allow CO2 cuts to be traded across sectors.

The previous regulations had led to “unworkable results,” prompting a “conceptual” reform of the country’s climate law, liberal Finance Minister Christian Lindner explained after the talks. Leaked documents circulating in the German media show that Chancellor Olaf Scholz supported the move.

Economists have largely cheered the move, which is expected to boost system efficiency.

But to activists, this means doom and gloom. “The intended new rules increase the risk that we will massively miss our climate targets, especially in the transport sector, and that this will be covered up for years,” says Christoph Bals of the climate watchdog Germanwatch.

Climate activists have singled out quicker permitting for highways, which aims to eliminate bottlenecks by constructing about 1,000 km of extra road. While the measure is unpopular with some green voters, its climate impacts are likely to be limited.

Induced demand aside, a phenomenon where larger roads lead to extra car traffic, their construction sits at a maximum of 2.6 million tonnes of CO2, which is not huge.

In turn, the government vowed to invest €45 billion into railways until 2027. Of this money, around €20 billion billion is expected to come from a novel and high-impact measure: a carbon price on truck tolls.

Using the German Autobahn costs money, and trucks weighing above 3.5 tonnes will be subject to an extra €200 surcharge per ton of CO2 they emit. This is expected to boost the shift to decarbonised road transport, making electric and hydrogen trucks more competitive.

Another visible measure is to mandate that car-sharing services solely purchase carbon-neutral vehicles from 2026.

Another change that worries activists but is expected to boost the construction of renewable energy assets is a decision to loosen rules around nature protection.

Instead of directly replacing natural areas displaced by construction nearby, which sometimes create spotty patterns of greenery, developers may pay into a fund that uses the money to create large natural reserves.

This “indulgence trading,” ridding oneself of sin through payments, is unpopular with environmentalists but could boost renewable energy deployment alongside other construction projects.

Last but not least, the controversial plan to ban new fossil heating systems from 2024 passed the government’s conciliatory process largely unchanged.

Germany, where 30 million households rely on fossil fuels to heat themselves, experienced a bumper year for gas boilers in 2022. With more than 600,000 new units sold las year, an outright seems unthinkable, even in the current geopolitical circumstances where Russian gas is in short supply.

The measure on gas boilers is the key to tackle the building sector’s CO2 emissions, which amount to 30% of the German total. Until 2030, the law is expected to bring about 40 million tonnes of CO2 savings.

Yet, the draft law has sparked outrage from the business-friendly FDP and the conservatives, who tried killing it.

An amended version of the law protects the elderly and carefully opens the door to hydrogen heating, which experts say is a bad idea. Should it break, those aged 80+ will not have to replace their heaters with a heat pump or similar green solution. That obligation will fall on their heirs.

The rules on allowing for hydrogen boilers instead of heat pumps were designed tightly, too, going by a 155-page draft law circulated on Monday. Prospective buyers of hydrogen boilers would need their gas network operator to submit a plan laying out how the hydrogen would be supplied – and to prove that their heater is running on at least 50% hydrogen from 2030.

And finally, as a result of the compromise, the German energy efficiency law – which has been sitting in a drawer for months due to unresolved issues – is expected to finally be agreed. This would be the vehicle to reduce energy use by 11.9% until 2030, as agreed by EU lawmakers in late March.

While the long-term impact of the watered-down sectoral target is impossible to predict, much good was agreed upon in turn.

The added CO2 toll on trucks will likely do a lot of good to decarbonise road transport, while maintaining the boiler ban will be worthy of a political legacy.


EU strikes deal on renewable energy law, agrees 42.5% target by 2030

Agreement on the EU’s renewable energy directive brings to a close an 18-month process to upgrade the bloc’s climate policies and achieve a 55% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Renewables directive: The impossible integration of nuclear-derived hydrogen?

The EU’s renewables energy directive, agreed in principle last week, leaves the door open to nuclear-derived hydrogen, but under conditions that are so challenging that some industry observers say they are impossible to meet.

Spain aims for electricity market reform deal during EU Council stint

Spain will seek a deal on the EU’s proposed power market reform during its six-month EU Council presidency ending on 31 December, a less hurried timetable than that of the European Commission.


BRATISLAVA. Slovakia will survive winter even without Russian gas, says economy minister. It is already likely that Slovakia will survive next winter even if Russian natural gas imports to Europe stop completely, said Economy Minister Karel Hirman. Read more.

PRAGUE. Czechia replaces Russian nuclear fuel imports with US imports. The US company Westinghouse will supply both Czech nuclear plants with fuel, so the country can quit importing Russian nuclear fuel by the end of 2023. Read more.

ROME. Commission greenlights Italian €450 million green hydrogen scheme. The European Commission has given Italy the green light to set up a €450 million project to support integrated hydrogen and renewable energy production in brownfield sites. Read more.

LONDON. EU space programme, Green Deal endangered by Brexit vacuum. Brussels and London’s failure to agree on post-Brexit arrangements endangers the European space programme, with the first victim possibly being the monitoring of the EU Green Deal, if no solution is found by mid-2024, EURACTIV has learnt. Read more.

WESTERN BALKANS. EU-backed plans for energy terminals in Western Balkans to bring economic, security risks. EU-backed plans for €3.5 billion in gas-fired power plants, pipelines, and liquefied natural gas terminals in the Western Balkans will introduce economic and security risks to the region and challenge the energy transition, according to research by Global Energy Monitor and Bankwatch. Read more.

PARIS. Macron announces water plan to fight droughts. Progressive pricing, savings, and the fight against leaks are all part of the 53 measures in the new water management plan President Emmanuel Macron announced on Thursday to better tackle droughts. Read more.

STOCKHOLM. Swedish right-wing government puts country on ‘wrong’ climate path. Sweden has increased its greenhouse gas emissions while other EU member states are reducing them since the new right-wing government, in office for five months, changed its tack on climate policy. Read more.

BERLIN. Berlin under fire for climate law ‘catastrophe’. Opposition members and green campaigners in Germany have criticised the government for weakening the country’s climate law after it reached compromises on key contentious issues after days and nights of negotiations. Read more.



Green NGOs challenge Norway’s PM claims of harm-free deep-sea mining. The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, a group of environmental organisations including WWF, Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth, called out a statement by Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre on harm-free deep-sea mining.

According to the NGOs, the Norwegian government is currently considering mining 329,000 km2 of its national waters, and, in a recently published article, the Prime Minister assured that deep-sea mining can be done in a way which does not harm natural diversity in the ocean.

Scientists have highlighted how deep-sea mining would result in a “loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning that would be irreversible on multi-generational timescales”.

As a result, countries around the globe have asked for a precautionary pause, moratorium or ban, including France and Germany.

“The statement from the Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre that deep sea mining can be done without harming the biodiversity is a false claim that puts pristine ecosystems at risk. The science is clear, deep sea mining is simply impossible without biodiversity loss,” said Louisa Casson from Greenpeace International. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)

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Fossil fuel subsidies on the rise, new study shows. Over the past few years, subsidies for fossil fuels have been increasing, especially since 2021 as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, according to a new report by green NGOs coalition Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.

In order to protect citizens and businesses from the impacts of the pandemic and the war, several EU countries have provided financial support to households and carbon-intensive industries. As part of their national recovery packages, they have introduced tax breaks and subsidies that were often not targeted to those in need nor accompanied by measures to help them engage in the energy transition, the report says.

Fossil fuel subsidies undermine incentives for consumers to replace fossil fuels with clean alternatives. They are also a waste of public money, which risks locking in high-carbon investments, the report says.

“Fossil fuel subsidies are pervasive, multiform and massive in Europe,” said Chiara Martinelli, Director of CAN Europe. “Last week’s IPCC report says it loud and clear: phasing out fossil fuels is key to tackle climate change, it’s just a question of political will”. Read the report here. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)

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EU agrees stricter sustainability rules for forest biomass. EU legislators have agreed on new restrictions to limit the use of forest biomass in the updated Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

A political deal on the revised directive, reached on Thursday (30 March) by the European Commission, Parliament and EU Member States, eliminates subsidies for energy generated by burning certain categories of forest wood, ends direct financial support for electricity generated by burning biomass in electricity-only plants, and disqualifies burning wood from primary and old growth forests from counting towards the EU’s renewable energy goals.

Additionally, it includes limits to ensure that biomass use doesn’t undermine land carbon sinks, and requires EU countries to assess the compatibility of forest biomass use with the land sink targets, in line with the EU’s land use and forestry regulation.

Environmental organisations voiced their disappointment with the 42.5% target. Nonetheless, they welcomed the new requirements linking biomass to loss of forest carbon sinks and the fact that subsidy schemes for biomass should prioritise long-lived uses of wood, rather than burning it for energy.

The revised EU directive “spells the end of the fantasy that biomass energy is carbon neutral” and marks “the first steps toward a rational, science-based renewable energy policy,” said Mary Booth, director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a US-based charity working on forest protection. (Valentina Romano | EURACTIV.com)


  • The EU has set ambitious targets on renewables, but the real challenge starts now – Pia Kerres, Malte Gephart and Corinna Klessmann
  • Corporate due diligence: what is the added value for climate? – Romain Hubert
  • European carbon certification: The unlikely alliance – Julia Grimault

APRIL

  • 18-19 APRIL. Informal meeting of environment ministers.

MAY

  • 17 MAY. Measures to reduce the release of microplastics in the environment.

JUNE

  • JUNE. European Parliament Plenary vote on the EU Nature Restoration Law.
  • 6-7 JUNE. EU Green Week.
  • 19 JUNE. Energy Council.
  • 20 JUNE. Environment Council.
  • 21 JUNE. Greening transport package.
  • 29-30 JUNE. European Council.
  • 30 JUNE. Deadline for European Member States to update their revised National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs).

SECOND HALF OF 2023

  • Q4. Revision of REACH regulation.
  • 26-27 OCTOBER. European Council.
  • 30 NOVEMBER-12 DECEMBER. UN Climate Change Conference (COP 28), Dubai.
  • 14-15 DECEMBER. European Council.