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National climate policy

Overview

Germany has set itself ambitious climate targets. The Climate Action Plan 2050, adopted by the Federal Cabinet at the end of 2016, particularly demonstrated the commitment of the German government to tackling climate change with ambitious climate policy. The Climate Action Plan 2050 shows Germany's strategy for implementing the Paris Agreement. The plan centres on the goal of achieving extensive greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050. The objectives of the Paris Agreement are the starting point for this 2050 vision. Under the agreement, global greenhouse gas neutrality must be achieved by the second half of this century. Another goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep global warming significantly below two degrees Celsius, or even below 1.5 degrees. 

Germany is one of the first countries to submit the long-term low GHGemission development strategy to the UN as required under the Paris Agreement. Germany has submitted its strategy well before the specified deadline of 2020. The German Government considers long-term strategies as a key instrument for future-oriented, reliable policy planning. The findings of the strategies are also very useful for the facilitative dialogue, due to take place in 2018 under the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The facilitative dialogue aims to take stock of the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The results will inform the revision or elaboration of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) of all parties in 2020. 

For 2030, the Climate Action Plan 2050 reiterates the overall target of a greenhouse gas reduction of at least 55 percent compared to 1990. This overall target has been broken down for individual sectors, while at the same time mapping out a clear direction for all sectors. 

The Climate Action Plan also gives guidance on steering development into greenhouse gas neutral and low-carbon pathways, hence making our economy, society and lifestyle climate friendly. Thus the Climate Action Plan 2050 is a concrete framework for strategic decisions over the coming years for businesses, unions, the scientific community, innovators and civil society.

Implementation and further development of the Climate Action Plan 2050

The Climate Action Plan 2050 will be updated every five years, coinciding with the timetable for revising the NDCs under the Paris Agreement. In the context of the mechanism for regularly raising the level of ambition for the NDCs, as laid down in the Paris Agreement, intermediate targets and milestones and their associated measures will be constantly reviewed for consistency with target achievement. If necessary, measures will then be adapted to keep up with technical, societal, political, social and economic developments and changes and with the latest scientific findings. 

The plan will be underpinned with programmes of measures. The first programme will be adopted in 2018. It aims to ensure that the 2030 targets are achieved. The greenhouse gas-reducing effects of the programme will be quantified. This will include estimates of the economic, social and other ecological impacts of possible measures. The programmes of measures will be fleshed out in cooperation with stakeholders in the previously established Climate Action Alliance and in coordination with the German Bundestag. 

Germany's 2016 national climate strategy was preceded by the Climate Action Programme 2020, which was adopted by the Federal Cabinet in 2014.

Sectoral targets in the Climate Action Plan 2050

Restructuring the energy sector is a key aspect of the plan. The Energiewende (energy transition) laid important groundwork in this sector. The further expansion of renewable energies and the gradual phasing out of electricity from fossil fuels will reduce the energy sector's emissions by 61 or 62 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. The commission for growth, structural change and regional development will develop a mix of instruments combining economic development, structural change, social compatibility and climate action. The work of the commission includes supporting regions and branches of industry that are particularly affected by the cuts to coal-based energy.

The target for industry is a 49 to 51 percent reduction by 2030 compared to 1990. Energy efficiency measures such as tapping waste heat potential, and a research, development and market introduction programme for reducing previously unavoidable emissions from industrial processes, aim to cut emissions by half by 2030 compared to 1990.

For the buildings sector, a roadmap has been drawn up for achieving a virtually climate-neutral building stock. Buildings have a particularly long life, which is why the 2050 course for this sector must be set at an early stage. The aim for 2030 is a reduction of 66 to 67 percent compared to 1990. This is to be achieved with ambitious standards for new buildings, long-term modernisation strategies and the gradual phasing out of fossil-fuel heating systems.

The transport sector will contribute a 40 to 42 percent cut to the 2030 target (compared to 1990). A series of climate concepts will identify measures for achieving this target, for example a strategy for climate policy in the road transport sector. Alternative drives, local public transport, rail, cycling, walking and a digitalisation strategy will all play a key role.

The agriculture sector must significantly reduce nitrous oxide emissions caused by the overuse of fertilisers. Furthermore, in Brussels, the German government will advocate that EU agricultural subsidies take EU climate policy decisions into account. Scope for mitigation in the agricultural sector is limited. Therefore, a reduction of 31 to 34 percent compared to 1990 is anticipated by 2030.

In land use and forestry, which are not included in the overall reduction target of at least 55 percent, the focus is on the preservation and improvement of the sink performance of forests. This means the reduction of emissions through CO2 sequestration in plants and soils. Additional measures include sustainable forest management and use of wood, the preservation of permanent grassland, the protection of peatlands and exploiting the potential of natural forest development to mitigate climate change.

Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

A key goal of the German government’s climate policy is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Germany has set itself ambitious targets for reducing emissions, for instance with the Climate Action Plan 2050 and the Climate Action Programme 2020: By 2020, emissions are to be cut by at least 40 percent compared to 1990, by at least 55 percent by 2030 and by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. By 2050 Germany aims to achieve extensive greenhouse gas neutrality – for example a balance between GHG emissions and their sequestration in carbon sinks. 

In 2014 the German government adopted the Climate Action Programme 2020, containing mitigation measures to supplement existing strategies and decisions. The aim was to ensure that the 2020 reduction target of 40 percent would be achieved, after a projection report in 2013 found that the target was unlikely to be reached with measures adopted to date. According to the projection report of May 2017, existing measures – including the Climate Action Programme 2020 – will only achieve a greenhouse gas reduction of around 35 to 38 percent. The latest trends give rise to the concern that the reduction may be less than that without additional climate measures. 

All in all, it remains true that Germany has made considerable progress in combating climate change since the early 90s: Climate policy measures cut Germany's greenhouse gas emissions by 27.9 percent between 1990 and 2015. While in 1990, Germany emitted 1,251 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, by 2015 annual emissions had fallen to 902 million tonnes. 

This is largely due to the decoupling of economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, and the fact that Germany exceeded its reduction target in the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (2008 to 2012). In relation to the total budget for the period, Germany is also on the right path for achieving its target under the second commitment period (2013 to 2020).

Strategy for modernising the economy

The Climate Action Plan 2050 is a strategy for modernising the national economy, providing guidance for all areas of action up to 2050 and for upcoming investments, especially for the period up to 2030: By setting out clear framework conditions, the strategy will help avoid stranded investments and structural breaks. The Climate Action Plan 2050 introduces a paradigm shift: In future, renewable energies and energy efficiency will be the standard for investments. In this way, the Climate Action Plan 2050 creates the necessary conditions to keep Germany's economy competitive in a decarbonising world. 

Climate action is an opportunity for German industry: The 2017 report Climate Action in Figures shows that current policy is already having positive employment effects. In 2015, the renewable energy sector provided 330,000 jobs. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers commissioned by the Federal Environment Ministry estimated that measures under the Climate Action Programme 2020 will create an employment potential of 430,000 additional jobs by 2020. According to the study, the measures adopted will generate around one percent additional growth to gross domestic product.