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Expert Council: Germany would probably have reached its climate target in 2020

Expert Council on Climate Issues evaluates emissions data estimate of the Federal Environment Agency for the first time.

Cover of the First Report of the Expert Advisory Panel on Climate Change.

With the Federal Climate Protection Act, Germany has broken down its climate targets into six binding annual sectoral targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. On 15 March of the year following the reporting year, the Federal Environment Agency publishes the emissions data for the previous year. Within one month of the Federal Environment Agency sending the data, the Expert Council on Climate Issues submits an assessment of the published data. One member of the five-member panel is WiSo Professor Marc Oliver Bettzüge, Director of the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne (EWI).

On Thursday 15.04.2021, the Expert Council on Climate Issues punctually presented its first report on German greenhouse gas emissions and handed it over to Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. This is the first time that the independent body, which was appointed by the German government in September 2020, has been involved in the mechanism to ensure that national climate protection targets are achieved.

According to the report, the reported emission levels for all sectors mentioned in the Federal Climate Protection Act, except for the building sector, were below the annual target values specified in the Act. Although the early timing of the reporting means that some data sources for determining the emission levels of the sectors as accurately as possible are not yet complete or are only available as estimates, following the legal mechanism, the figures trigger the preparation of an emergency programme for the building sector.

Because of the measures to contain the Covid 19 pandemic, some special effects naturally come into play concerning the emission values for the year 2020. Therefore, the Council of Experts classified the emission data in the individual sectors in a broader analysis, based on a trend update of the historical emission data for 2020. According to this, the transport sector would have exceeded its maximum emission level specified in the Federal Climate Protection Act. All other sectors would have met their respective targets, including the building sector.

"A closer look at the emission estimate has shown that the emission data at this early point in time still exhibit a quite considerable degree of imprecision. Moreover, because of the many special effects in 2020, they probably only represent a snapshot," Marc Oliver Bettzüge comments on the submitted report and adds: "Germany would probably have achieved its entire climate target in 2020 even without the measures to contain the Covid 19 pandemic, especially thanks to the positive development in the largest sector, the energy industry. In the other sectors, however, the individual sectoral assessments required by the Climate Change Act might have been different without the pandemic." This contrasts with climate protection measures that have already been adopted and will only begin to take effect in 2021, such as the Fuel Emissions Trading Act. Overall, Bettzüge says, the reported emissions data should therefore be considered in a larger context rather than in isolation.

The analysis also refers to the recent decision by the European Council that EU-wide greenhouse gas emissions should be 55 per cent lower in 2030 than in 1990 instead of 40, and discusses the possible consequences for national sector targets in Germany.

The Expert Council on Climate Issues (ERC) is an independent body of five expert persons from different disciplines. It was appointed in September 2020 and is mandated by § 11 and § 12 of the Federal Climate Protection Act (KSG). The panel consists of five members Prof. Dr Hans-Martin Henning (Chair), Dr Brigitte Knopf (Deputy Chair), Prof. Dr Marc Oliver Bettzüge, Prof. Dr Thomas Heimer and Dr Barbara Schlomann.