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25th Feb 2018

German CO2 emissions up despite 'energy transition'

  • Autobahn: Germans are using more cars (Photo: trombone65)

Germany emitted more greenhouse gasses in 2016 than in the previous year, but is still seen as a positive model for the rest of the world.

The EU's largest member state emitted the equivalent of 906 million tonnes of CO2 last year, compared to 902 million in 2015, the German Environment Agency reported on Monday (20 March).

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The agency said the trend was due to the transport sector, in particular an increase in usage of cars.

The figures stood in contrast with Germany's image as a front-runner in the transition towards clean energy - an image that it showcased on Monday at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue, a conference held in the building of the foreign affairs ministry.

“In Germany alone we have created 300,000 jobs in this new industry that is the renewable industry,” said foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel in a speech, calling the “Energiewende”, or “energy transition,” the “trend for the future”.

He said, as did other speakers at the event, that “protection of our climate and economic success go very well together.”

“We stand by our commitments,” Gabriel said.

Brigitte Zypries, his counterpart from the economic affairs and energy ministry, said: “We are well-advised to work together for the transformation towards a climate-neutral future, and do it in a way that is economically viable”.

Neither of them mentioned the 2016 figures.

The carbon output for last year will make it difficult for Germany to reach its climate targets, the German Environment Agency said.

But despite the setback, Germany has increased its share of clean electricity to almost a third of all its electricity needs.

“Yesterday, wind energy alone provided 53 percent of Germany's electricity,” said Rainer Hinrichs-Rahlwes, of the German Renewable Energy Federation at a press conference on Monday.

“This is a new record. I think in the coming years we will have new records again.”

The German Renewable Energy Federation is an umbrella organisation for renewable energy associations.

Nuclear phase-out

In most EU countries an increase in renewable energy correlates with a decrease in greenhouse gases.

But that is not the case in Germany because it has chosen to use renewable energy to replace nuclear power, which is almost carbon neutral.

Some 40 percent of electricity generation in Germany currently comes from coal power plants, which are heavy emitters.

Nuclear facilities do not emit greenhouse gasses, but the German government believes they pose too high a risk of an environmental disaster and plan to phase them out by 2022.

Hinrichs-Rahlwes said he was “happy” with the German decision to do away with nuclear energy.

“It is a question of replacing the old energy system,” he said, noting that use of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, was not increasing.

He also said he hoped the next German government, after parliamentary elections in September “is courageous enough to decide on an ambitious coal phase-out”.

Karsten Smid, of the German branch of environmental lobbying group Greenpeace, agreed.

He told EUobserver Germany had a “failed climate policy on coal” and said coal power plants should be closed.

Coal votes

“We can shut down coal-fired power stations because we have enough renewable energy on the grid. It's a question of political will to force the energy transition,” said Smid.

He said he believed Gabriel's centre-left social democratic party SPD was blocking the closure of coal mines because of the miners who work there.

“They want to have their [the miners’] votes in the coming elections,” Smid said.

A possible coal phase-out is not high on the agenda of the electoral campaign, said the Greenpeace campaigner.

He said chancellor Angela Merkel was saying "nothing concrete" on the issue.

"She said we have to do a coal phase-out step by step and not going too fast with the coal phase-out. Nobody knows what it means,” he said.

Smid believed the mainstream parties will decide on a coal phase-out during the next term.

“I'm sure that after our elections in 2017 we have to organise this coal phase-out and the debates are already happening behind the scenes,” he said.

The Greenpeace activist also said German cars should become cleaner.

“You know the German car industry is very strong, they are blocking policy instruments against the rising transport emissions,” he noted.

He said that the coal phase-out should happen first, however. Otherwise you would have electric vehicles that are using electricity that was being generated by coal, he said.

Solar hero

Bertrand Piccard was also at the press conference.

Piccard was one of the pilots to fly a solar-powered plane around the Earth last year.

He told EUobserver that German CO2 figures for last year showed that environmental protection was not something that could be achieved “from one day to the next”.

“You have to see on the world-wide level the leverage of the result you have. Germany has set an example,” said Piccard.

”Germany has to keep on going because it is a lighthouse to the world,” he added.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, made a similar remark in his speech.

He said Germany's effort to create an energy transition were “a rich source for inspiration for all the countries across the world”.

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Germany's politicians and public have agreed to leave nuclear energy behind, but a mooted phase-out of coal-power generation may not be so easily achieved.

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Like all nuclear nations, Germany faces an unfathomable conundrum: where to store the waste? Its handling of the problem has sparked a decades-long political battle that shows no sign of abating. First in a two-part series.

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Why Germany is digging up its nuclear waste

Germany admits it will take decades to retrieve nuclear waste from the Asse II salt mine - a "disastrous" choice for a storage location that clouds the current search for a new dumping site.

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Nordic energy boss wants to get rid of coal

Tackling climate change is a more important goal than phasing out nuclear power, says Pekka Lundmark, president and CEO of energy company Fortum.

Analysis

EU transport sector has a CO2 problem

Although car manufacturers are reaching their CO2 targets for their fleets, car usage has gone up in Germany, while the gap between lab results and actual fuel consumption has increased.

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