Germany on track of its 2020 emission goal? As a result of the energiewende?

The graph of the new estimate of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015 in previous post was from Clean Energy Wire, but the data was taken from the analysis from Forum Ökologisch-Soziale Marktwirtschaft (FÖS) on behalf of Bündnis 90 / The Greens. There was also this graph in the FÖS analysis that stood out when opening the document. Most interestingly, it also showed a linear target path connecting 1990 with the final emission reduction goal in 2020:

ghg emissions Germany 1990 - 2015

It reminded my of the first myth of the Greenpeace brochure in which two puzzling messages were given. First was said that Germany is way ahead of its Kyoto goal (26% emission reduction achieved, compared to the expected 21%), but later was also stated that the Germans had to crank it up a notch to get where they wanted to be in 2020. Initially, those two statements seemed contradictory because if one is ahead of schedule, why the need to crank it up a notch? Did they maybe set an unreasonable target for 2020? Probably they did. But looking at this linear target path it became clear that both could be true, depending on the time frame.

The linear target path showed that emissions don’t follow this linear trend line, which at such is not unusual. But it was obvious that the initial decreasing trend in emissions was much, much stronger than the current trend. That is not hard to explain. The beginning of the graph (1990) was the first year after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reuniting of East and West Germany. The cleanup of the inefficient, heavily polluting East German industry gave initially huge savings, but it becomes much harder after that. The low hanging fruit was probably already picked in the 1990s.

It is therefor no surprise that the emissions before 2003 where all below the linear target path to 2020. From 2003 on the emissions start touching and then going above the target path, deviating more from the path as they go towards 2020. Also look at the last seven years where six years went over the target path. There isn’t much of a trend, which is remarkable because the production of renewables went through the roof during the same time. One would expect a clear trend down, not a rather flat trend as we see now.

It is certainly true that Germany was ahead of schedule towards 2020 in the first part of the graph, but it slowed down in the second part and went rather flat at the end. In that second part, the biggest drop in emissions happened in 2009 and this had to do with the economic crisis, not with the energiewende or the desire to lower emissions.

So most of this decrease in emissions was not the result of the energiewende, contrary to what seems to be suggested in the brochure. It dates back to a time when renewables had a small to almost non existing share and the goal was certainly not getting CO2 emissions down. Probably it were mostly other things, like higher efficiency and energy savings, that did the trick. That is not exactly what we are being told.

4 thoughts on “Germany on track of its 2020 emission goal? As a result of the energiewende?

  1. manicbeancounter

    You are quite right to point out the low hanging fruit on emissions reductions, and that future reductions will be harder to come by. It is called “the law of diminishing returns”.
    There are other factors at play here. It is not just policy and technological change that contribute to the reduction in emissions. In the case of Britain there has been a huge loss of high emissions heavy industry to emerging economies. This includes steel, shipbuilding, and bulk chemicals. Japan suffered a similar fate in the 1980s – with heavy industry shifting to South Korea and then China. Instead there are higher valued-added industries in such as in design and high level engineering. German car production is increasingly more upmarket. The cheaper VW brands are built in Czech Republic and Spain, but the technology is mostly German. To get a proper idea of German emissions over time would mean estimating the emissions on imports and exports. This will become more important as carbon taxes and carbon permit costs increase. What could very easily happen is that jobs will be exported to lower cost (and carbon tax-free) areas.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      As far as I know, only emissions were counted that were produced in the country in this preliminary estimate.
      You are right that this is only part of the picture. Those emissions produced to make products that are consumed in another country are not counted, but should in fact be counted as emissions for that country. It makes that some countries “exported” their emissions abroad and therefor underestimate their emissions.


      1. poitsplace

        It’s such a tangled web. People can discuss the “externalities” but more often than not, they get misused, counting only what is convenient and conveniently forgetting all those “other” costs that might show an idea wasn’t so good (or just outright insane). That’s exactly what you’re uncovering in these posts…how they’ve miscounted, double counted, and ignored the information.


        1. trustyetverify Post author

          Yeah, that brochure keeps on giving. It is a strange mixture of truths, half-truths and falsehoods.

          I think it all starts from the failure to understand that wind and solar energy are intermittent energy sources and that this has consequences when injecting it into a continuous working grid. Therefor they can play with numbers in a way that is not realistic, but it suits their case. Within their (illogical) base assumption it all makes perfect sense, but ultimately it is not based on reality.

          Specifically to the subject of this post, it ignores that those emission reductions has several causes that are much bigger than the reduction by renewables, yet in the brochure attributed to the rising share of renewables. While when we look more in detail to the graph, we see that the emissions are stabilizing at a moment that the share of renewables is ever increasing.


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