Hauke Benner – Germany is failing to reach its climate goals

Germany’s Green Economic Affairs and Climate Action Minister is not nearly achieving the planned or necessary reductions of CO2

Hauke Benner is a former journalist and decade long activist against climate change.

Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE

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Photo: David Shirreff

In a press conference on 9 March the German Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Robert Habeck, presented his plan for accelerating the shift away from fossil fuel energy in a so-called “workshop report”.

Under the motto “Renewing prosperity and achieving climate-neutrality”, the minister praised the government’s course to accelerate the expansion of renewables as well as increasing the efforts of the population to reduce its energy consumption. Both industrial and private energy consumption had declined. Habeck did not mention, however, that CO2 emissions had fallen only very slightly and that the self-imposed ceiling had been missed.

Climate targets missed in favour of energy security

In 2022, CO2 emissions amounted to 761 million tonnes, which was 5 million tonnes more than the ceiling set by the German government.

The reasons for this are to be found primarily in electricity generation. Instead of an announced reduction in fossil fuel energy, the opposite took place: a considerably higher share of coal in electricity generation, which increased from 30 to 33% in 2022. Many lignite-fired power plants ran at full capacity and 14 black coal-fired power plants that had previously been shut down were reactivated. Despite the sharp increase in gas prices as a result of the war in Ukraine, gas-fired electricity generation fell by only 10%. In addition, three German nuclear power plants were finally shut down at the end of 2021. The elimination of nuclear power was more than compensated for by a significant increase in the share of renewables from 43 to 48% in electricity generation. Overall electricity consumption, expecially among the poorer parts of German society, fell by 5 % due to the sharp rise in electricity prices. On the other hand, the profits of electricity and gas companies such as Total and RWE rose sharply. Unlike in Spain, however, the German government is in realtiy not implementing the announced energy excess profits tax enabling it to extract billions in additional revenues as a result of the war in Ukraine from these companies.

The transport and building sectors also contribute significantly to the continuing high CO2 emissions, because the German government has not adopted any measures to reduce emissions, especially in the car sector. On the contrary, emissions from transport have risen again. The car, and especially the fuel-guzzling SUV, is still the German’s favourite toy. Although the share of newly installed heat pumps in the building sector increased by almost 1 million in 2022, the share of electricity in building heating is still only 5%. Economics Minister Habeck now wants to change this with a sledgehammer and no longer permit the installation of new fossil-fuel heating systems from 2024.

The dilapidated nuclear power plants and the drought in France are affecting German electricity production.

Almost half of France’s nuclear power plants were not operating last year due to corrosion damage and cracks. The extreme drought and summer heatwave resulting in low water levels in the major rivers, so that some nuclear reactors had to be shut down because they lacked cooling water. As a result electricity production in France fell to its lowest level since 1992 and the German electricity industry exported significantly more electricity to France, increasing from 6 TWh to 15 TWh. For this reason, too, the German fossil fuel power plants ran at full capacity. And since the gas-fired power plants also produced only marginally less electricity, the producer prices shot through the roof. This is because, in accordance with the merit order procedure, the wholesale price on the Leipzig Power Exchange is determined according to the last power plant needed to satisfy the demand that has been ordered. And that happens to be the gas-fired power plants. Especially in the summer months, when many French power plants were shut down, a lot of gas was used in Germany, which further accelerated the price increases. Last summer, the EU Commission announced that it would review the way prices are determined on the electricity exchanges by means of the merit order. Similar announcements also came from Habeck’s ministry in August 2022. But here, too, there has been no action to date.

The desolate situation in France is not over. Two further French nuclear power plants have just been taken off the grid due to significant cracking. And the hitherto unknown winter drought in France and Northern Italy, including the very low snowfall in the Western Alps (up to 70% less snowfall than usual), does not bode well for the summer months in the French hydropower plants and the large rivers. such as the Loire and the Rhone, where countless nuclear reactors depend on cooling water.

France has been lucky this winter that there has not been an electricity blackout; because the winter was again quite mild, so that electricity production for residential heating has not reached its limits. After all, 35% of all dwellings in France are heated with electricity, and for new buildings this figure is as high as 80%.

For 2023, there is a threat of a repeat: Germany will continue to produce with all its fossil-fuelled power plants come what may in order to compensate for the shortfalls in France, and electricity prices will remain very high for this reason as well. So once again, Mr. Habeck’s press conference claiming that an accelerated phase-out of fossil energy remains empty words and will fail due to realpolitik and coalition squabbles.

Despite these unmistakable harbingers of climate change, the French government continues to expand its nuclear power programme. The share of nuclear power is to remain at more than 70% and renewables, in contrast to Germany or Spain, will remain an energy niche. Yet solar and wind power in particular can be used much more flexibly in periods of drought and are not affected by the threat of a (cooling) water shortage.

As different as the energy policies on both sides of the Rhine may seem at first glance, both governments do not differ fundamentally in their approach to somehow still meeting the Paris 2 degree target. Both are committed to “climate-neutral prosperity”. One with nuclear power and the other with the announcement to commission four to five new wind power plants per day by 2030, as Chancellor Scholz announced last weekend after the cabinet meeting at Schloss Meseberg. Where Scholz wants to get the production capacities and above all the resources, which are largely in China, remains his secret.

Both governments are sticking to the growth dogma. Not good prospects in the battle for the climate.

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