Germany’s carbon targets in doubt as emissions rise in 2013

New lignite-fired power stations prompt rise in Germany’s CO2 emissions, tarnishing the country’s green revolution 

The Garzweiler coal mine in Germany (Source: Flickr/BertKaufmann)

The Garzweiler coal mine in Germany (Source: Flickr/BertKaufmann)

By John McGarrity

Germany’s emissions rose in 2013 as new coal-fired capacity offset the impact of new wind and solar, further underlining the paradox of the country’s energy policy and difficulty in meeting future carbon reduction targets.

Last year Germany emitted 951 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, up 1.2% than 2012, while CO2 from energy rose 1.5% according to German government calculations obtained by news agency Deutsche Presse Agentur.

Commentators say lignite’s increased share of Germany’s energy mix, which rose to 25% last year, means the country will fail to meet domestic carbon reduction targets and tarnish the progress made towards low-carbon energy.

“Germany’s domestic 2020 and 2030 greenhouse reduction targets will be missed,” said Mark Johnston, an advisor to Brussels-based think tank European Policy Centre

He added: “The scale of renewables growth is a good thing but largely it replaces decommissioned nuclear, not fossil fuelled power stations.”

Figures quoted by DPA showed that Germany has only achieved emissions cuts of 23.8% since 1990, far behind a domestic emissions reductions target to cut 40% by  2020 and 55% by 2030.

Generation from brown and hard coal is now around 50% of its energy of Germany’s energy’s mix, the highest since 1990, says German analysts AGEB.

While Germany has long been expected to miss the self-imposed target because coal and lignite have maintained their share in the energy mix, the growth in emissions casts further doubt whether Germany can meet longer term targets to cut CO2 emissions.

The country has said it will cut emissions 80% by 2050, but such a scenario would require most of the country’s fossil-fuelled power stations to be phased out over the next few decades as a stepping stone to the ambitious mid-century target.

Slashing emissions by 2050 is key consideration in the country’s push for an EU-wide reduction target of 40% by 2030 and tough targets on renewables.

Although Germany’s domestic emissions targets aren’t legally binding, they are considered ‘politically-binding’ because they appear in a range of official documents, consultants Poyry said in a report published last year.


Subsidies and generous feed-in tariffs through Germany’s Energiewende or ‘energy transition’ has prompted big additions of wind and solar capacity in recent years, with almost 22GW of power from the sun today almost beating a record 24GW seen in 2013.

Solar met around 43% of Germany’s power demand today, the equivalent of 20 average-sized coal-fired power stations staying offline, noted Berlin-based think tank the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

Analysts note that power stations fired by hard coal, much of it imported, could become less economic because of weak wholesale power prices, a likely rise in carbon permits and increased deployment of renewables.

Last week Germany’s largest generator RWE posted its biggest loss for 60 years, fuelling predictions that large utilities will become increasingly unviable in their current form.

Increasing amounts of the energy mix are controlled by community-run renewable energy projects, outside the control of the big utilities which are saddled with loss-making gas-fired power plants and potentially lower profits from coal.

Coal-fired power has been beset by other setbacks, as the start of Vattenfall’s new 1,600-MW Moorburg plant near Hamburg has been postponed until the end of this year after repeated problems with its boiler.

Around 2,800 MW of new lignite-fired power capacity came online in 2012, which benefit from adundant supplies of brown coal in Germany.

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