Germany has become the starting point of the deep carbon removal challenge


Global climate policy in 2021 focuses on generating more ambitious climate pledges from the member states of the Paris Agreement ahead of the COP meeting in November. With the addition of the United States, About two thirds Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from countries that have committed to reaching net zero emissions by mid-century. These countries must now adopt policies to achieve these emissions reductions; A complete rework of the global energy system in just three decades. With Last court rulingGermany has become the starting point for this challenge, as German law will now require a very ambitious timetable for change.

Climate as an issue of intergenerational justice

For most of history, succeeding generations were better off than those that preceded them. The march of technology has provided benefits to humanity, as it gives people more goods to choose from, amenities, and options to live and work.

But climate change threatens to change that. Earth’s climate is changing faster than at any time in human history, and we may soon be living in a completely different environment. Some of the strongest voices in the climate movement today come from young people, who claim that climate change is stealing their future from them.

For years, governments have tended to “unleash” climate policy, delaying action while the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise. Climate is exactly the kind of problem that humans are difficult to deal with – the tragedy of the commons that pits future generations against current and developing countries against the rich world. However, the costs of inaction have become more apparent, and in recent years many countries have become more and more serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Historic ruling of the German Supreme Court

Against this background, on April 29, 2021, the German Federal Constitutional Court History was introducedThe ruling that Germany’s climate action law does not adequately protect the freedoms of youth and future generations. The 2019 law binds Germany To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. Annual limits for emissions from sectors including energy, transportation, buildings and agriculture have also been set.

The court’s decision is based on the 1994 amendment on the Article 20 of the German Basic Law, Which added environmental protection to the basic principles of the constitutional system (democracy, federalism, rule of law, etc.) states: “Subject to its responsibility towards future generations, the state must protect the natural foundations of life through legislation …” German Christian Callis Commented The court ruling “awakened” Article 20 and transformed it into a standard for judging the adequacy of legislative procedure. The court Argued“One generation should not be allowed to consume large fractions of carbon dioxide2 Budget with bearing a relatively small share of the reduction effort if that involves leaving subsequent generations with the burden of significant reduction and exposing their lives to overall losses in freedom. ”Basically, judgment depends on Carbon budget theory Of emissions, which states that spending too much of the budget now will leave an insufficient budget for the future, causing unnecessary difficulties.

The verdict opens up new avenues for generational equality in climate law. This finding goes further than A. The case was decided in the Netherlands in late 2019that was The first to order a country to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsOn the grounds that inappropriate action on climate change could violate human rights. However, this issue did not include goals after 2020 nor did it focus on the issue of intergenerational equality. Likewise, current climate court cases in the United States focus on companies that produce fossil fuels rather than on the government’s response to the climate challenge.

Merkel’s government responds with an ambitious pledge

German politicians are now playing the blame game. Different parties blame each other for not having gone further than the 2019 law, in a country so keenly attentive to the climate with the upcoming federal elections in late September. However, there is some revision history here. The law was a delicate compromise reached after months of controversy that split the ruling coalition between the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union (CDU / CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Minister of Environment, member of the Social Democratic Party, Pushed hard Strict law with sector-specific emission reductions. Members of the more conservative CDU / CSU complained during the negotiations about the sector-specific provisions It aims to harm industries It is supervised by ministries under the control of its parties. The leader of the opposition Green Party complained in parliament that the law did not go further, saying: “It has failed in humanity’s mission to protect the climate. “Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated that she has always been pragmatic.”Politics is what is possible. “

After only two weeks of judgment, the Merkel government Agree to an update to the Climate Action Law It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% ​​by 2030 and net emissions by 2045, five years earlier than the previous target. If approved by Parliament, these would be among the most ambitious goals in the world, with Only the UK is aiming for bigger discounts 68% by 2030 and 78% by 2035, on the way to net zero by 2050.

There may not be an example of a government legally obligated to accomplish a more difficult task. Americans like to compare reducing greenhouse gas emissions with landing on the moon. President John F. Kennedy in September 1962 that the United States would land a man on the moon within a decade. This goal was achieved in July 1969. However, the task undertaken by Germany is much more difficult, as it involves changing the foundation of the entire German economy within a decade. Instead of an extraordinary effort by a group of engineers. Additionally, the firing target was not legally binding.

Climate action triumph, but the devil is in the details

Ambitious goals are one thing, but achieving them is another. Germany has a long history of investing in renewable energy as part ofEnergy transmissionLiterally means “transfer or transformation of energy.” However, Energy transmission It also includes the phasing out of German nuclear power, with the last nuclear plants It is scheduled to close at the end of 2022. The German public, too Opposed to carbon capture and storage. These two technologies are expected to be important in the United States’ decarbonization effort, but they are largely untold in Germany. In talks over the past months, representatives of government, industry and NGOs alike have focused on renewable energy and green hydrogen (produced from renewable energy) as a path forward. These are great technologies, but the time frame for implementing them on a large scale is longer than the court ruling and updated climate labor law allow, especially in the important German steel, chemical and transportation industries.

What if Germany fails to achieve its goals? at this case, The federal government should purchase emissions allocations from other countries, the responsible ministry must create an emergency program to reach future targets, and the government will then put in place remedial measures. The remedial measures needed to achieve these ambitious goals can indeed be very draconian. Will German politicians be able to implement it? Will the German public accept them? European governments generally have more ambitious climate policies than those in the United States, but we have seen a backlash when it affects the daily lives of citizens – The yellow jackets protests The one that erupted in France in late 2018 after the fuel tax hike is a good example. Policies to achieve Germany’s climate goals are likely to test the determination of German society.

Climate judgment could affect other equity issues as well. The rapid transition to a carbon-free economy will require massive investments in buildings, transport infrastructure, and industrial processes. Government support will be required for some of these processes. For example, the German steel industry intends to switch to hydrogen in its process. This change will be costly and will require government support for both capital and operating expenditures, although today steel production faces a European carbon price of over € 50 per ton. Large government expenditures will require debt financing, which will also have implications for future generations. Germany has “debt curb” in its constitution that It limits federal government borrowing at 0.35% of GDP. Debt braking can be suspended in times of crisis, but is decarbonization investment a crisis? Or will the concept of intergenerational justice in the recent court ruling work against such investments, because it will leave future generations burdened with more debt? There are no easy answers to these questions.

Scientists and activists pushing for ultra-rapid emissions cuts are turning to the fact how difficult the task is, especially once easier emissions cuts are achieved in the energy and light transport sector. Climate rule makes Germany a major test case in transition, with extremely rapid cuts now enshrined in law. Good luck and good luck.

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