Germany nuclear phaseout puts 2020 climate target in peril

Economics minister says carbon emissions reduction target is “no longer viable” ahead of parliamentary vote

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chanvellor and Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy

Sigmar Gabriel, Vice Chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy

By Ed King

Reports Germany is planning to ditch its 2020 climate target of 40% CO2 reductions on 1990 levels are premature, a government official has told RTCC.

On Monday the influential German daily Der Spiegel said economics minister Sigmar Gabriel believed the goal was impossible to meet given the country’s reliance on coal.

“It’s clear that the target is no longer viable,” he was quoted as saying, adding: “We cannot exit from coal overnight.”

But an official RTCC spoke to indicated the issue was still live. “It is not yet decided,” the official said, pointing to a Parliament vote on the issue at the start of December.

Gabriel’s position has pitted him against SPD colleague and Federal environment minister Barbara Hendricks, who is clear she will not accept any backtracking.

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Both ministries are engaged in intense discussions over a draft Climate Action Programme, which details additional measures to curb emissions.

If the country follows its business as usual trajectory it is likely to miss the 40% goal by “several percentage points” say analysts.

The row is an embarrassment to chancellor Angela Merkel, a former environment minister who last weekend lectured Australian prime minister Tony Abbott over the importance of tacking climate change.

“Climate change knows no borders,” she said. “It will not stop at the Pacific Islands.”

In 2011 Merkel announced that 17 nuclear plants would close, a reaction to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which sparked angry anti-nuclear protests in Germany.

But despite the much heralded Energiewende policy, aimed at boosting Germany’s use of renewable energy, coal has steadily filled the gap left by atomic energy.

According to analysis by Mat Hope in the Carbon Brief website, the main reason for Germany’s predicament is that emissions have been rising due to coal use, which generates over 40% of its electricity.

“The government expects the Energiewende’s current policies will mean the energy sector emits 70 million tonnes less in 2020 than it did in 2013,” writes Hope.

“But if the government is to hit its overall 2020 goal for the whole economy, it’s going to need more emissions reductions from the energy sector.”

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Environmentalist and author Mark Lynas says the blame for rising emissions should be pinned on the Green Party, which has campaigned for a nuclear phase-down since 2000.

“It is simply not possible for intermittent solar and wind, which can generate close to zero electricity for days at a time even when average production is rising, to run a modern high-energy economy alone,” he wrote on his blog.

“So the coal must stay, and the climate targets must go.” He added: “This is what happens when ideology hits reality.”

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