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Germany's CO2 emissions fall to lowest level since the 1950s

Germany is emitting fewer greenhouse gases than it has for decades. This is according to experts from the Agora Energiewende think tank. But that sounds better than it is.

Record low - Germany's CO2 emissions fall to lowest level since the 1950s

According to preliminary calculations by the think tank Agora Energiewende,Germany produced fewer greenhouse gases last year than it has in seven decades. According to the study, CO2 emissions fell by 73 million tons compared to 2022 to a total of 673 million tons, which corresponds to a decrease of 46 percent compared to 1990. This is according to a study entitled "The energy transition in Germany: state of play 2023", which will be presented in Berlin this Thursday and is available to Deutsche Presse-Agentur in Berlin.

"By 2023, emissions will have reached their lowest level since the 1950s. At the same time, this is the largest year-on-year decline in this period," Agora's Germany Director, Simon Müller, told DPA. For the period before reunification, the authors combined data on greenhouse gas emissions from the Federal Republic and the GDR. However, according to the experts' analysis, the record year does not represent a lasting success for climate protection.

Short-term effects improve CO2 balance

The authors of the study attribute only around 15 percent of the reduction to long-term savings, for example through the expansion of renewable energies, more efficient use of energy and the switch to more climate-friendly fuels. According to the study, around half is due to short-term effects such as lower electricity consumption. The lower emissions are also due to the weakness of German industry, with production in energy-intensive industries in particular slumping. "The slump in production caused by the crisis is weakening Germany as an industrial location. If emissions are simply shifted abroad as a result, nothing is gained for the climate either," emphasized Müller.

According to Agora, the main reason for the improved climate balance is that less electricity was generated from the climate-damaging burning of coal last year. Emissions from electricity generation fell by 46 million to 177 million tons of CO2, more than halving compared to 1990. As usual, CO2 or carbon dioxide here includes other greenhouse gases that have been converted into CO2 for better comparability. The fact that less coal was used to generate electricity was due to the price-related decline in electricity consumption of 3.9 percent compared to 2022. Energy prices had risen as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Across Europe, there was also a strong year for electricity from renewable energies, according to the authors of the study. Renewable energies also increased in Germany.

Agora assumes that the building sector failed to meet its climate target for the fourth time in a row. According to the calculations, emissions here only fell by three million to 109 million tons of CO2, which was due to lower heating requirements due to mild weather. The sector is therefore eight million tons above the path required to achieve the 2030 target.

The transport sector has therefore missed the target set out in the Climate Protection Act for the third time in a row. According to Agora, emissions here have also fallen by three million to 145 million tons of CO2 compared to the previous year. This is 12 million tons above the current target path. The share of electric cars in new registrations stagnated.

Solar is booming, wind is weakening

According to Agora, the expansion of solar power reached record levels last year: 14.4 gigawatts of new capacity were added, 6.2 gigawatts (GW) more than in the previous peak year of 2012. Although there were fewer hours of sunshine than in the previous year, the amount of electricity generated increased. The German government is aiming for an installed capacity of 215 GW for photovoltaics by 2030, with Agora forecasting 81.9 GW for 2023. The plants will be built even if there is no money from the state: According to the think tank, nine percent of the added solar capacity on open spaces was built outside of EEG tenders and therefore without state funding.

"We are on track for the 2030 climate targets in this area," said Müller. "The expansion and digitalization of the distribution grids are a prerequisite for keeping it that way." The German government wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

According to the study, thanks to favorable weather conditions and a slight increase in capacity, wind turbines will produce 138 terawatt hours (TWh) more electricity in 2023 than German coal-fired power plants at 132 TWh. However, with an increase of 2.9 GW for onshore wind, the growth in generation capacity was far too low to achieve the German government's target of an installed capacity of around 115 GW by 2030. "This is also due to significantly more complicated approval procedures compared to solar power," Müller noted. However, approvals for onshore wind turbines have increased significantly.

Failure to meet EU climate targets could be costly

Together with the other EU member states, Germany has also set itself greenhouse gas reduction targets for the period 2021 to 2030. This affects areas that are not part of European emissions trading, i.e. transport, buildings, agriculture and waste, as well as parts of the industrial sector. The Federal Environment Agency also predicted a significant gap here by 2030. Germany would then have to buy rights to emit greenhouse gases from other EU countries or risk infringement proceedings by the EU Commission with possible fines. "If Germany does not make progress on climate protection in buildings and transport, it could face costs in the billions," warned Müller.

How exactly the climate-friendly restructuring of the German economy will continue is unclear following the Federal Constitutional Court's budget ruling. The federal government's agreement on next year's budget does secure key elements, according to Agora. "However, there is still a lack of a concept for the medium and long-term financing of necessary investments. Müller warned: "Non-action also causes costs."

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