Climate Action Law: The Much Needed Plan Is Here

Climate Action Law: The Much Needed Plan Is Here

“Climate change is a major global challenge. As a leading industrial nation, Germany has a special responsibility. We must preserve vital natural resources, as well as ensuring our common future and that of our children. We will share this responsibility equitably, and we have a plan.” This is an excerpt of the introduction to the official overview of the Climate Action Law, published by the German Federal Government.

A couple of months before the new decade starts, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government announced a new comprehensive Climate Action Law. For years, there had been strong pressure from NGOs and the civil society to get a law making the climate targets legally binding, and setting the roadmap towards achieving these goals.

Protests demanding actions from governments against climate change have been reaching records this year while the topic of climate change is more present in the widespread media than ever. The Grand Coalition finally presented a detailed Climate Action Law.

It is important to understand that, what the media calls Climate Action Law, has two complementary parts:

  • The Climate Action Law: whose main objective is to set legally binding targets on the emissions of CO2. First, the objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% (compared to the 1990 levels) by 2030 is set. To this end, and for the first time, yearly emission budgets per sector are assigned together with a clear definition of who is responsible for those targets and ways of ensuring accountability.
  • The Climate Action Programme 2030: outlines different measures for each sector to reach the targets defined in the Climate Action Law, sets up guidelines for programmes that will incentivise and support CO2-reducing technologies and behaviour, and defines regulatory measures.

What are the targets and how is Germany getting there?

Some statistics, Germany occupies the 6th place in total CO2 emissions while having only 1.08% of the population. Moreover, German citizens are wealthier than the majority of the population in the world. Germany has a GDP (PPP) per capita 307% higher than the global GDP (PPP) per capita where all the population of the world is taken together to make this calculation ($52.500 versus $17.100); in both cases taking into account the relative costs of living in different countries.

These numbers make it is clear that Germany has a responsibility to lead the fight against global warming and they also show why a Climate Action Law was necessary. This law is said to rest upon the Paris Agreement that sets out to limit global warming below 2º C.

The targets set for 2030 and 2050 are the same as the ones already outlined in Germany’s Climate Action Plan 2050: reducing greenhouse emission levels by 55 percent and 95 percent respectively (compared to the greenhouse emission levels of 1990). The long-term objective is to achieve greenhouse neutrality by 2050.

One of the most interesting parts of this law is that greenhouse gas emission reduction is divided by sectors, and for each sector a yearly budget is defined. For each sector, the federal ministry whose jurisdiction is closer to the sector will be responsible for the introduction and application of the necessary measures to reach the respective targets.

In case of failing to meet the yearly target, the overshot will be spread equally among the remaining years until 2030 and the ministry in charge is required to present emergency measures that assure the achievement of the targets.

An overview of the sectors responsible for CO2 emissions and the 2030 targets is:

  • Energy: 466 million tonnes in 1990 to 175-183 million tonnes (minus 61-62%) in 2030
  • Building: 210 million tonnes in 1990 to 70-72 million tonnes (minus 66-67%) in 2030
  • Transport: 163 million tonnes in 1990 to 95-98 million tonnes (minus 40-42%) in 2030
  • Industry: 284 million tonnes in 1990 to 140-143 million tonnes (minus 49-51%) in 2030
  • Agriculture: 90 million tonnes in 1990 to 58-61 million tonnes (minus 31-34%) in 2030
  • Other: 38 million tonnes in 1990 to 5 million tonnes (minus 87%) in 2030
  • Total: 1251 million tonnes in 1990 to 543-562 million tonnes (minus 55-56%) in 2030

 Note: Greenhouse gas emissions are transformed to CO2 equivalents and added.

Other interesting measures in the Climate Action Law include actions that ensure accountability and transparency. Amongst them is the creation of an independent commission of five experts (climate scientists, environment and sustainable development experts, economists, etc.) that will examine data and assess both the proposed measures to reduce emissions as well as the progressive results.

The Climate Law also establishes that the federal government will publish an annual report on climate action that will make public the data on yearly emissions and the status of the measures taken to reduce emissions). The federal government will also prepare a report every two years where it will update the greenhouse gases emissions projections.

What role will renewables play in the climate strategy?

This law and the measures taken in the Climate Action Programme 2030 recognize the indisputable importance that renewable energy sources will have in this transition. The expectation defined by the government is the generation of at least 80 percent of the energy from renewable sources by 2050 (right now the percentage fluctuates around 50% depending on the atmospheric conditions).

Experts agree that solar energy is going to be the greatest motor driving this transition. The German government set its goal to produce 98 GW by 2030, more less double the amount that is produced right now (by August 2019, about 48.65 GW were generated by PV). A decisive decision was to remove the total capacity subsidy cap that was in place. What does this mean? The Renewable Energy Act from 2012 stipulated a cap of 52 GW of total volume that would be eligible to help in form of subsidies. The Climate Action Law removed this cap as a decisive way to promote more investment in solar energy.

The Climate Action Programme recognizes that a very important limiting factor for taking advantage of renewable sources, and solar power in particular, is the capacity to store power. This is why it explicitly contemplates the investment of one billion euros in the development of solar battery storage production in Germany. The Research Factory for Batteries (Forschungsfabrik Batterie) is conceived to support technology development that addresses the whole battery cell value chain.

Experts from the EuPD Research argue that the Climate Action Programme falls short on the targets it sets for the growth in solar power production capacity. They argue that by 2030, 160 GW from solar power are necessary to replace the energy generation coming from nuclear and coal. Solar power, they agree, is the only viable short-term option and will become the main pillar of Germany’s energy generation by 2040; this provided that the storage capacity manages to grow 30-fold as is required. 

Is this climate law too ambitious? – No, a bold step is needed

Although there has been widespread criticism to that law, some critics claim that it could even take Germany to bankruptcy, urgent and bold actions are needed. The recommendations given by the scientists (the latest report of the IPCC urging to do everything to keep global warming by 1.5º C is the most prominent example) make clear that humanity has no time for progressive actions.

It is undeniable that the changes needed will have a cost, but instead of just focusing on the price tag, we should see this as an opportunity to use innovation to create a sustainable way of living. Renewable sources of energy production will play a fundamental role in this transition.

The Climate Action Law is a bold step from the government towards achieving sustainability. However, citizens and the private sector are also required to contribute through consumption decisions. Investing in sustainable sources of energy for private consumption is one of the best ways to make our part (and in the end turn out to pay themselves). Here you can find personalized assistance to assess the Return of Investment from making the transition to solar power.

Photo: © Bundesregierung/Bergmann