Germany to bring forward climate goals after constitutional court ruling

Government proposes net zero deadline of 2045 instead of 2050, but critics demand actions not numbers

Germany’s government is to revise its emission reduction targets after the country’s constitutional court declared the current climate protection measures insufficient, aiming to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2045 rather than 2050.

The finance minister, Olaf Scholz, and the environment minister, Svenja Schulze, laid out a legislative proposal on Wednesday to cut emissions by 65% from 1990 levels by 2030. An 88% reduction of carbon emissions is to be reached by 2040.

Germany’s emission levels are currently 40% lower than they were in 1990, meaning it would require a reduction of a further 25 percentage points over the next nine years to meet its next target.

The German cabinet could ratify the proposal from the Social Democrat ministers next week if, as expected, it finds support among its senior coalition partners, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.

“We will strengthen our efforts for the year 2030 once more,” Merkel said, stressing that her government would “do everything to meet the target of climate neutrality by 2045”.

The coal-fired Neurath power station
The coal-fired Neurath power station. Coal-powered energy is currently scheduled to be phased out by 2038. 
Photograph: Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

Germany’s coalition government has been surprisingly upbeat about the constitutional court’s announcement last Thursday. Key ministers from both parties have welcomed a ruling that effectively criticises them for jeopardising young people’s freedom by postponing inevitable cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The case was brought by young environmental activists, backed by Fridays for Future, Greenpeace, Germany’s Friends of the Earth (BUND) and other NGOs.

The government has not yet explained what concrete measures it will take to meet the new targets, whether by revising its carbon pricing scheme or speeding up the phase-out of coal-powered energy, currently scheduled for 2038.Targets like ‘net-zero’ won’t solve the climate crisis on their ownMathew LawrenceRead more

“Matching numbers with actions will require the kind of major effort that this country has seldom seen,” wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “It could turn the federal republic into an international beacon and help to lessen the worst impacts of the climate crisis. But this coalition government would rather leave it to its successors to work out the details.”

The emissions targets debate comes five months before national elections in Germany on 26 September, and against the backdrop of several polls showing a lead for the Greens.

The ecological party is pushing the outgoing government to double its investment in climate protection measures by €8bn (£7bn) by 2025.

“We’ve got some ambitious targets, that’s a step in the right direction”, said the Greens’ co-leader Robert Habeck on Thursday. “But the key challenge is following up numbers with actions, and in that respect the government isn’t delivering.”

Halbeck, who lost out to his fellow co-leader, Annalena Baerbock, in the race to become his party’s candidate for chancellor, said the Green party would seek a 70% emissions reduction by 2030 and urged the government to expand renewable energy sources, reduce subsidies for coal power and increase the price on greenhouse gas emissions in the transport and building sectors.

Boris Johnson welcomed Germany’s move on Thursday at a climate conference hosted virtually in Berlin. The UK prime minister also called on Germany and other G7 countries to provide more financial assistance to help poorer countries cut their emissions and cope with the impacts of the climate crisis. Rich nations were supposed to provide $100bn a year in climate finance to the developing world from 2020, but that target has been missed.

“We simply must meet our existing commitments on climate finance, that long-overdue $100bn a year target, and then we must go further still,” Johnson said. “It is really up to us in the wealthier economies just to walk a mile in the shoes of developing nations … We have a moral and a practical obligation to help them. That means putting our money where our mouth is.”

Johnson is under pressure to secure substantially increased climate finance commitments from the world’s biggest economies in order to make a success of the UN Cop26 climate talks to be hosted in Glasgow in November.

Green campaigners had hoped that Merkel would use Thursday’s climate meeting in Berlin, called the Petersberg dialogue, to announce new cash for developing countries, but they were disappointed. The US made new commitments on climate finance at a White House conference held by Joe Biden last month, but they too fell short of expectations.

Johnson will use the UK’s presidency of the G7, which meets next month in Cornwall, to try to extract promises of more climate finance. Campaigners, however, point out that he will face a major obstacle in the form of his own decision to cut the UK’s overseas aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP, which has led to hundreds of aid projects being axed.

The UK government insists that climate finance spending will be protected from cuts, but the distinction appears to make little difference to other countries. Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics at Greenpeace UK, said: “Johnson has undermined his own message through the decision to cut international aid. These cuts should be reversed immediately. It’s not just our diplomatic credibility at stake, but the lives of millions of people on the front line of a crisis they did little to create.”

By Philip Oltermann and Fiona Harvey

This article was originally published by The Guardian.