By Nadja Podobnik (Slovenian Press Agency)
The decision of the German people in this year's parliamentary election about whom to entrust with leading the government will also influence the dynamics of the country's transition towards renewable energy sources. Although Germany faces many challenges along this path, including the consequences of the 'dieselgate' scandal, environmental issues were not among the key topics of this year's election campaign.
According to Dr. Silke Karcher from the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, one of the reasons for this is that virtually all parties agree on the necessity of the transition towards renewable energy sources, known in Germany as the 'Energiewende'. Last week in Berlin, Karcher explained to a group of journalists that German parties differ only in their opinions on how to achieve that goal.
Karcher, who is Head of Division of European Climate and Energy Policy, New and Market Mechanisms at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, added that the majority of the German people also agree on the importance of the energy transition and that many of them, especially in the countryside, produce energy from green sources.
She also stated that, although Germany adopted numerous measures after the decision for the energy transition was made in 2011, the country remains coal-based and "struggles with its environmental policy".
Bernhard Pötter, a journalist for the German newspaper taz who has been working with environmental issues for several years, is of a similar opinion. At the round table organised last week in Berlin by the environmental think tank adelphi and the non-profit organisation Clean Energy Wire, Pötter stated that the 'Energiewende' has been "both a great success and a great failure".
On the one hand, Germany has a large number of plants where energy is produced from green sources, especially wind farms and solar power plants. The annual budget for the support of renewable energy is estimated at around €20 billion and a third of the electricity produced is green. Thus, Germany has already exceeded the goal set for 2020. On the other hand, Germany is still a considerably lignite-based country. Moreover, according to Pötter, the country's energy transition so far has placed too much focus on electricity production while not enough emphasis has been put on other areas such as transport.
"In recent years, emission rates have not decreased. They have remained unchanged or have even increased. We have the same emission rates as in the 1990s," stated Pötter.
Germany set itself a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 per cent by 2050, in comparison with 1990. In accordance with this plan, emissions would need to be cut by at least 40 per cent by 2020. However, environmental organisations have recently warned that by 2020 the emissions will be cut by only 33.7-37.5 per cent, and even less according to some calculations.
"The fact that we are not going to reach the goal set for 2020 is an embarrassment for both ruling parties [author's comment: CDU and SPD]. That may be one of the reasons why there has been little emphasis on environmental issues during the election campaign," Pötter said.
He tells also of a strong German political consensus regarding the necessity of the energy transition, even though the AfD, a party that opposes this policy, will most likely enter the German parliament for the first time.
In spite of the previously mentioned negative predictions, German chancellor Angela Merkel insisted in a broadcast from the German television channel ZDF at the end of last week that Germany will reach the set goal regarding greenhouse gas emissions in time. "We will find ways to reach our goal of cutting the emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. I promise you that," she said.
Experts warn that the fate of the German energy transition and thereby also the achievement of the set goals will largely depend on what the new government coalition will look like.
Environmentalists are afraid that the energy transition might be hindered, especially if the liberal party (FDP) is to be part of the coalition. The FDP's main concern is the benefit of German industry, in which automotive manufacturers play a major role.
Also among the possibilities is a coalition including the Green party. During the campaign, the Greens predictably put the most emphasis on environmental issues. Among other things, they would ban the sale of new cars that create harmful emissions by 2030. With this, Germany would overtake France and Great Britain, who plan to ban the sale of new fossil fuelled cars by 2040.
Last week, at the opening of the IAA Cars 2017 in Frankfurt, Merkel praised the efforts of German automotive manufacturers for the development of electric vehicles, but also defended diesel. "We cannot deny the fact that the use of internal combustion engines will be necessary for decades to come," she stated.
In Germany, discussion about banning the production of fossil fuelled vehicles remains very difficult due to the strong automotive industry, which employs 870,000 people. As Pötter explained, the majority of the political forces are either not willing to discuss this ban (yet) or are mentioning goals set for a rather distant future, e.g. 2070. Pötter himself is of the opinion that the ban is going to be implemented sooner rather than later as the German industry will have no other choice.