German CO2 emissions rose slightly last year casting doubt on the government’s ability to meet its ambitious climate change commitments. Germany emitted 906 million tonnes of CO2 in 2016 compared to 902 million tonnes the previous year, according to a report by the German Environment agency. The report singled out the transport sector as being the cause of the increase, noting that carbon dioxide emissions from transport rose by 5.4 million tonnes.
The increase is partly as a result of the 5 percent rise in German car sales and the 1.1 percent rise in freight traffic. Both of these figures point to an upswing in the economy, which grew by 1.9 percent in 2016, the fastest rate of growth in 5 years.
Germany has been seen as a leader in the fight against climate change since it adopted far-reaching targets in 2007. The plan aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and up to 95 percent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. A progress report in 2014 found that Germany had succeeded in cutting emissions by 27.6 percent during that time. However, this was achieved during years of near zero growth when many industries were cutting back on production and consumers were buying fewer cars. In order to reach the 40 percent reduction target by 2020 emissions will have to fall by forty million tonnes per year. The improved economic outlook will make this target increasingly difficult to meet.
The German government has also been criticised by environmental groups for its continued reliance on coal. As part of the government’s energiewende, or energy transition, it plans to increase the share of renewables in gross power consumption to 80 percent by 2050. Although huge strides have been made in solar and wind, which now account for around one-third of all energy produced, forty percent of Germany’s energy needs are still met by coal-fired power plants. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the phasing out of all nuclear power by 2022. The removal of zero-emissions nuclear power from Germany’s energy mix has made coal the default backup for intermittent wind and solar power. Although coal plants are due to be taken off-line, their closure is a more sensitive issue politically than that of nuclear power given the loss of mining jobs that will result. In the meantime, old and inefficient lignite plants will be taken out of daily use and put into standby, only to be used as a last resort in case of emergencies.