Germany veering off track from 2030 climate goal, experts warn

While Germany achieved its 2022 climate target, the persistent emission overshoot in the transport and building sector threatens the country’s ability to meet its 2030 objective, a national panel of scientists has warned.

In 2021, Germany’s top court ruled that the government was constitutionally obliged to ensure a safe climate for its citizens. This sparked a revision of Germany’s landmark climate protection law, under the guidance of a committee of scientific experts.

These scientists condemned the government on Monday (17 April) for veering off track from the country’s 2030 goal of slashing emissions by 65% relative to 1990 levels.

“We actually see that we are not really on a good path in any sector,” said Brigitte Knopf, deputy chief of the expert commission, when presenting their 2022 assessment in Berlin.

Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions last year amounted to 746 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – or 10 million tonnes below the ceiling.

This can be seen as a success, as Germany fired up coal power plants and imported more oil to replace falling supplies of Russian gas following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

But meeting the objective came at a high cost for the German economy since the 2022 goal was met largely due to high energy prices driving down energy demand and industrial production, the experts concluded in their report.

Emissions reductions in the industry and energy sector, particularly, were steeper than expected, pointing to a slowdown in the country’s industrial output.

Looking forward, the experts give the German energy sector a fifty-fifty chance of meeting its 2030 climate target, despite the country’s controversial nuclear exit on 15 April.

Two other sectors are also raising concerns – transport, where emissions have been rising steadily over the past two years, and buildings, where the targets have not been met for a third year running.

Moreover, Germany is unlikely to achieve its 2030 target in the land use and agriculture sector, the experts say. The objective there is to reduce emissions by 25 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Transport sector woes

Germany’s transport sector continues to be a major climate problem. In 2022, it overshot its emission target of 139 million tonnes of CO2 by a whopping 9 million tonnes. 

By now, the expert climate council assesses Germany’s odds of meeting its 2030 transport target as “especially unlikely”.

The bad result comes despite the additional disincentivising factor for motorists of high petrol and diesel costs – prices rose from €1.6 per litre in January to a peak of €2.3.

Prices relaxed again in December, in part due to a generous tax reduction during the summer, with Germany’s infamous “Tankrabatt” reducing petrol prices by €0.3 per litre and diesel by €0.14.

And while Germany is often praised for its country-wide €9 monthly public transport ticket, the experts said it had no influence on car use, despite a 50% increase in demand for public transport compared to 2019.

Should the emissions gap in the transport sector persist, Germany is looking at another major issue related to EU climate laws. Transport is a sector covered by the Effort Sharing Regulation, which assigns CO2 savings to EU countries based on their economic strength.

As the EU’s economic powerhouse, Germany was assigned a high emissions reduction target. Should it fail to meet its objective, it would have to purchase emission certificates from other EU countries that overachieved. 

“The Expert Panel reiterates that without further action, critical challenges to meeting the [Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR)] targets will arise,” the scientific committee stressed in their report

Knopf added this might also go against the spirit of the German government coalition agreement, where parties agreed to refrain from buying CO2 certificates to achieve the country’s climate goals. 

Building sector trouble

Aside from transport, emissions in the building sector continue to be a headache. The sector missed its target for a third year running in 2022, despite record energy prices and a warm winter.

In spite of all this, the building sector overshot its 107 million target by 4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, and the German experts have little hope for change.

“Despite the strong growth in the market share of heat pumps, gas heating systems were also by far the best-selling heating technology among newly installed heating systems,” they caution in their report.

In 2022, German households bought and installed more than 600,000 gas heating systems, adding to the country’s estimated 30 million fossil boilers.

Although German companies are among the leading heat pump manufacturers, their uptake in Germany is only increasing slowly. When accounting for population size, Germany was last in heat pump uptake across Europe, the experts found.




cover photo: German climate experts are increasingly worried that the country may fail to slash emissions by 65% relative to 1990 levels. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]