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Greenhouse-gas neutral Germany 2050

Overview

In November 2016, the German government adopted the Climate Action Plan 2050, making Germany one of the first countries to submit the long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy to the UN as required under the Paris Agreement. The Climate Action Plan 2050 confirms and specifies the German government's ambitious climate targets.

Germany's long-term goal is to become extensively greenhouse gas-neutral by 2050. This is based on the target in the Paris Agreement to achieve global greenhouse gas neutrality in the second half of the century. The German target also takes account of the country's particular responsibility as a leading industrialised nation and the EU's strongest economy.

The medium-term target is to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Germany by at least 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. In its Climate Action Plan 2050, the German government also lays down 2030 targets for individual sectors, describes the necessary development pathways for them, lists initial measures for implementation and establishes a process for monitoring and updating policies and measures. With this plan, Germany will play its part in achieving the target set out in the Paris Agreement to keep global warming significantly below two degrees Celsius or even limit it to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Climate Action Plan 2050 maps out the process for achieving Germany's climate targets for all areas of action in line with the Paris Agreement: Energy supply, the buildings and transport sectors, industry and business, agriculture and forestry. The plan also lays down the first emission reduction targets for individual sectors for 2030, thus providing guidance for strategic decisions over the coming years. In addition, the plan envisages monitoring and public participation. The first programme of measures under the Climate Action Plan 2050 will be submitted at the end of 2018 and will comprise actions to ensure the achievement of the 2030 target.

Development of the Climate Action Plan 2050

The coalition agreement of 2013 states "In Germany we will continue to lay down the further reduction steps up to the 2050 target of 80 to 95 percent, taking into account the European targets and the outcome of the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, and support these with measures elaborated in a broad dialogue process (climate action plan)."

The dialogue process began in summer 2015 and was concluded in March 2016. The German government drew up the Climate Action Plan 2050 in 2016 on the basis of scientific studies and scenarios and in light of the Paris Agreement. The results and recommendations of the broad dialogue also informed the process.

Previously, federal Länder, municipalities, associations and members of the public had put forward suggestions for strategic climate measures up to 2030. In March 2016 they submitted the resulting catalogue of 97 measures to the Federal Environment Ministry.

Explanatory film

Goals and content

The Climate Action Plan 2050 outlines a modernisation strategy for the necessary transformation to a low-carbon economy in Germany on three levels: 

  1. It contains specific guiding principles for the individual areas of action for 2050, leaving scope for innovations and striving to maximise sustainability.
  2. It outlines robust transformation pathways for all areas of action, examines critical path dependencies and describes interdependencies.
  3. It underpins goals, in particular the interim GHG target for 2030 of at least 55 percent reduction of GHG emissions compared to 1990, with emissions targets for all sectors, concrete milestones and strategic measures, also taking impact and cost analyses into account.

When deciding how to transition to a greenhouse gas-neutral economy and society, it will be particularly necessary to take the management rules, targets, and other requirements of the government’s sustainability strategy into account. Climate action that is successful over the long term must go hand in hand with sustainable use and conservation of resources and must not threaten the preservation of biodiversity. To achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, the focus should be on reducing greenhouse gases by increasing energy efficiency. Social and economic requirements must be considered when structuring the transformation.

Sectoral targets in the Climate Action Plan 2050

The Climate Action Plan 2050 describes the areas of action concerned with energy, industry, buildings, transport, agriculture, land use and forestry. It also sets out overarching targets and measures.

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 to 62 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. Among the measures for this sector is a commission for growth, structural change and regional development appointed by the German government. It will be established at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and will involve other government ministries, along with the Länder, local authorities, trade unions, representatives of affected businesses and sectors and regional actors. As part of the transformation process, realistic prospects must be developed for the affected branches and regions, suitable strategies devised, the steps for implementing them agreed and the requisite financial conditions created. The aim is to enable the commission to begin its work in early 2018 and if possible submit results by the end of the year. The commission will develop a mix of instruments combining economic development, structural change, social compatibility and climate action. This will include the investments required in branches and regions affected by the structural change and the financing of these investments.

The reduction target for industry is 49 to 51 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. In one of the measures for this sector the government will work with industry to develop a research and development programme aimed at reducing industrial process emissions that have an impact on climate. The programme will focus on the transition to greenhouse gas neutrality, including the option of a circular carbon economy in industry (carbon capture and utilisation, CCU). Energy efficiency measures such as tapping the existing potential of waste heat will also help reduce greenhouse gases. At present, nearly 70 percent of industry's final energy demand is for fuel, and this is reflected in the large amounts of heat, including waste heat, that are produced. In future, this waste heat should be consistently and strategically used both in industry and in residential areas. All options are under consideration, including power generation and use in local and district heating grids. This will also take account of existing programmes and measures.

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 goal is a reduction of 66 to 67 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. Achieving a virtually climate-neutral building stock by 2050 depends on ambitious standards for new buildings, long-term strategies for upgrading the building stock and the gradual phasing out of fossil-fuel heating systems. Therefore, the zero-energy building standard for new buildings, which will apply from 2021 onwards, will be progressively developed in order to achieve a medium-term standard for new buildings which is practically climate-neutral. This will make the installation of efficient new heating systems using renewable sources considerably more attractive compared to fossil-fuel fired heating systems. To support this goal, appropriate incentives for using and constructing buildings that generate more energy than they use should be reviewed. By 2050 existing buildings will also be upgraded with measures to improve energy efficiency and allow greater use of renewable energy, bringing these building up to the standards of a virtually climate-neutral building stock. Energy standards for existing buildings will therefore be gradually developed in an economically feasible way by 2030.

The transport sector will contribute a reduction of 40 to 42 percent (compared to 1990) to the 2030 climate target. A series of climate concepts will identify measures for achieving this. A concept for climate policy in the road transport sector will present a strategy for reducing GHG emissions from road transport by 2030. This will take into consideration the relevant proposals at EU level and will cover emissions from cars and light commercial and heavy goods vehicles, issues relating to GHG-free energy supply and the infrastructure needed to provide it, and sector coupling (through electric mobility). Alternative drives, local public transport, rail transport, cycling, walking and a digitalisation strategy will all play a key role in the transport sector.

Agriculture will contribute a reduction of 31 to 34 percent (compared to 1990) to the 2030 target. This includes a significant reduction in nitrous oxide emissions arising from the overuse of fertilisers. 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. The German government will work with the Länder to ensure full implementation and consistent enforcement of legislation on fertilisers, particularly the Fertiliser Application Ordinance and the planned ordinance on good nutrient management practice on farms, thereby ensuring that the German Sustainable Development Strategy's target of 70 nitrogen per hectare between 2028 and 2032 is achieved.

Emissions in the areas of action contributing to the target

Area of action1990
(in million tonnes of  CO2-Äquivalent)
2014
(in million tonnes of  CO2-Äquivalent)
2030
(in million tonnes of  CO2-Äquivalent)
2030
(reduction in percent compared to 1990)
Total1248902543 to 56256 to 55
Energy sector466358175 to 18362 to 61
Buildings20911970 to 7267 to 66
Transport16316095 to 9842 to 40
Industry283181140 to 14351 to 49
Agriculture887258 to 6134 to 31
Subtotal1209890538 to 55756 to 54
Other3912587

Source: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (2016). Climate Action Plan 2050.

In the land use and forestry sector, which is not included in the evaluation of target achievement, the focus is on the preservation and improvement of the sink performance of forests – for example the reduction of emissions through CO2 sequestration in plants and soils. One goal to this end is to increase forest area in Germany. Other measures include sustainable forest management and use of wood, the conservation of permanent grassland, the protection of peatlands and exploiting the potential of natural forest development to mitigate climate change. The German government is also working to ensure that climate action is taken into greater account in the funding area 'forests' of the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection. As part of the overarching measures formulated in the Climate Action Plan 2050, the German government will review how the system of taxes and levies can be developed further with a view to achieving the climate targets up to 2050. The German government will strengthen economic incentives for polluters to reduce environmental damage and move towards sustainable production and consumption. Due account will also be taken of the effects any changes may have on low-income households and on the international competitiveness of the industries concerned.

Monitoring and updating the Climate Action Plan 2050

The German government's Climate Action Plan 2050 will be reviewed and updated in line with the five-yearly stocktake of the NDCs laid down in the Paris Agreement. The first update will coincide with the deadline for submission of new NDCs by the Parties to the Paris Agreement, i.e. at the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020. Regular updates of the Climate Action Plan 2050 will also serve to implement the mechanism anchored in the Paris Agreement for regularly raising the level of ambition for the NDCs.

The intermediate targets and milestones, the relevant transformation pathways and the associated measures will be continuously reviewed to ensure that they are consistent with achieving the targets. If necessary, they will be adapted in response to technological, societal, political, social and economic trends and changes, and to the latest scientific findings.

To ensure the 2030 targets are achieved, in 2018 the Climate Action Plan 2050 will be underpinned with a programme of measures with quantifiable effects on reductions. An evaluation will be carried out for each programme of measures prior to its implementation to assess its possible ecological, social and economic impacts. The programmes of measures will be developed in consultation with the Bundestag and with the participation of civil groups, including in the framework of the Climate Action Alliance.

Reviewing and updating the Climate Action Plan and developing and revising programmes of measures requires scientific analyses of scenarios and of the effectiveness, costs, results and ancillary effects, as well as the economic and social opportunities and risks. The German government will appoint a scientific platform comprising selected research institutions in the fields of natural and social sciences to perform these tasks.

The Climate Action Plan 2050 itself will continue to be reviewed and updated in future as part of a public dialogue process with broad participation by the Länder, local authorities, the private sector, civil groups and the public. The participation processes related to the Climate Action Plan 2050 will be regularly evaluated and further developed.

Further information