Falling Short of Its Climate Goals, Germany Outlines Plan to Get Back on Track

Germany is on track to halve its greenhouse gas emission by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, far off the government's target of 65 percent, the nation's new climate minister said on Tuesday.

In his first official press conference as minister, Robert Habeck, a member of the environmentalist Greens, said the government is not on track to meet its 2022 and 2023 climate targets, and called the 2030 goal a "gigantic" task.

Although the pandemic led Germany to meet its 2020 interim goal reducing emissions by 40 percent, 2021 did not follow the same trajectory.

One reason Germany failed to meet its goal last year is because of the increased reliance on coal-fired power plants after the decision to turn off all nuclear power plants by the end of this year.

Ideally, the government plans to utilize less polluting natural gas solutions until enough renewable energy becomes available to meet the country's demand, eventually phasing out the need for coal power.

Wind and solar power currently provide 43 percent of Germany's electricity. However, Habeck said that number would have to double by 2030 if the country hopes to meet its climate goal.

"You can see the task is big, gigantic," Habeck said.

As citizens switch to electric cars and start heating their homes with electricity-powered heat pumps, electricity consumption is expected to increase significantly.

Habeck also plans to fast-track a solar booster package that would make solar energy mandatory for public buildings.

Robert Habeck Germany Climate Goals
New Climate Minister Robert Habeck said Germany is not on track to meet its 2022 and 2023 climate targets, and called the 2030 goal a "gigantic" task. Above, the coal-fired power station Neurath of energy giant RWE near the open-cast mine in Garzweiler, western Germany, on March 15, 2021. NA FASSBENDER/Getty Images

The new center-left government that took power in Germany last month plans to put forward two packages of legislation this spring and summer that include revising subsidies for renewable energy, requiring solar panels on new buildings and adjusting the rules on where wind turbines can be erected.

Habeck said he expects a "huge political debate" over the measures but insisted Germany can't afford to frame it as a tradeoff between preserving the natural landscape, protecting the economy or reducing emissions. He referenced last year's deadly flash floods in western Germany, which killed nearly 200 people and devastated entire villages, as one of the possible problems that can happen.

This week, a report by Munich Re—a leading global reinsurance provider—found that the July floods were the costliest natural disaster ever recorded in Europe.

Economists cautiously welcomed Habeck's plans but said Germany should work harder to expand Europe's carbon trading system to cover the transport and heating sectors.

Some environmental groups reacted angrily to draft European Union plans that would allow nuclear and gas power plants to be labeled "sustainable." The proposal is seen as a compromise between France, which seeks to expand its use of nuclear power, and Germany, which wants to boost natural gas as a "bridge technology" on the way to a carbon-free future.

On Tuesday, a group of activists placed an atomic power plant made of cardboard in front of the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's office and held up banners reading: "No green stamp for nuclear and gas."

Habeck said that while he doesn't support the use of nuclear energy, it was up to each European country to decide how it wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

Habeck also said it was "logical" to work on the premise that the amount of carbon dioxide Germany can emit in the future is finite, and while many countries oppose the concept of a fixed carbon budget, he believes the principle should apply globally.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.