Germany sees economic advantage in addressing climate change

December 5, 2012

This week I am in Berlin with the American Council on Germany studying energy and climate change policy. I’m among a group of about 20 Americans visiting with European lobbyists, politicians and past and current government employees.

Those in our group come from a diverse background from across the United States. Among us there are two other journalists, a lobbyist, a county government worker from a community in Virginia working to reduce that state’s emissions, non-profit directors, consultants and a trial judge from Arizona who sees cases regularly involving diminishing resources.

Kelsey Dayton

So why Germany? Germany is leading the world in creating national change regarding climate policy. It has not only prioritized climate change as a national issue — something that has been endorsed across party lines — it has also created concrete steps to reach its goals. Its energy plan has made it the first country not only to prioritize limiting global warming and reducing emissions, but also to lay out the steps of how it will get there.

German officials say that climate change and energy policy are major influences on the country’s economy and its foreign policy and national security. The country’s long term plan targets renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate protection. By 2050 Germany will rely primarily on renewable resources for its energy. By 2020 renewable energy will make up 18 percent share of gross energy consumption, and 30 percent by 2030. This plan will make Germany’s energy supply the most efficient and environmentally sound in the world, according to officials.

While increasing renewable resources, primary energy consumption is expected to decrease 20 percent by 2020, and continue to shrink. Germany’s plan also calls for a 95 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to 1990.

Currently, about 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany are due to energy generation, which is why the country decided to restructure its energy supply to focus on renewables. In the last 10 years renewable energy in the electricity sector quadrupled. Germany already met its 21 percent Kyoto Protocol emissions reductions target, and in 2011 emitted about 26 percent less than in 1990.

The country uses its Renewable Energy Act, which came into force in 2000, that provides a Feed-In Tariff system. Under the act, grid operators must give priority to renewable energy and a price guarantee exists for 20 years.

Increasing energy efficiency in buildings also plays a vital role in the plan, since buildings are responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption and 30 percent of greenhouse emissions. All buildings must now use renewable energies, like solar and geothermal energy, and receive financial awards for feeding electricity from new combined heat and power plants. New and renovated buildings have cut energy use 30 percent as of 2009. As of 2010, buildings can only consume 3 liters of heating oil per square meter per year. An incentive program spent 500 million euro retrofitting existing buildings with heating from renewable energy in 2009, triggering an additional 2.6 billion euro in private investments.

To reduce carbon emissions in the transport sector Germany plans to put 1 million electric cars on the street by 2020 as well as increase the share of biofuels. We met recently with a representative of BMW who talked about the company’s plan to release a fleet of entirely electric cars next year in Europe and the United States.

Germany  also recently adopted an accelerated plan to decommission all nuclear power plants in the country by 2022. Since the Chernobyl incident in 1986, the country has been wary of nuclear power, particular the issue of waste disposal. Fukushima only solidified opposition to nuclear power and Germany decided the risks were too great.

It’s an interesting time in Germany in terms of policy as they move forward, faced with challenges such as how to replace power it will lose from its nuclear plants, how to pay for major changes like retrofitting old buildings, and the need for new and smart grids for storage systems. And while there is consensus in Germany that climate change is an issue, not everyone agrees on the steps needed to fight it.

The policies will also change Germany’s relationships with other countries, both in Germany’s reliance as well as its influence as it works to get others in the world on board to make changes.  By taking the lead in fighting climate change, German officials say the country is setting standards and policies other countries will likely emulate and follow.

Germany’s share of environmental technology is already 16 percent of the world market. The steps Germany is taking will likely reap the country benefits beyond helping the environment. While reducing greenhouse emissions, the country created 390,000 jobs in renewable energy. By 2020 the country’s policies will create 500,000 jobs expected to increase to 800,000 by 2030.

Avoided fossil energy imports will be worth 22 billion euros by 2020. The plan also is expected to increase the national GDP to an estimated 20 billion euros annual and decrease the national debt 180 billion euros.

Banner photo by André Zehetbauer.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelance writer based in Lander. She has been a journalist in Wyoming for seven years, reporting for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, Casper Star-Tribune and the Gillette News-Record. Contact Kelsey at kelsey.dayton@gmail.com.

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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  1. Thank you, Kelsey, for your very good reporting. Your article on Germany brings into sharp focus what other countries, especially the United States, can do about curbing climate change and preventing the slow cooking of our Planet Earth. But for us, it would mean keeping all those carbon molecules in the ground. And for Wyoming, it would mean heresy of the highest order. Fat chance! But it is coming and it is only a matter of time.