Some of us are slow learners. In 2011, Germany made the decision to shut 8 nuclear reactors and to close three more by 2020. The obvious consequence of this would be that Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than they otherwise would have been.
This is simple arithmetic, yet it was denied at the time, and still is, by many (most?) people within the environmental movement. But now many in the environmental movement have suddenly noticed that Germany is not moving away from coal, and this is making their 2020 targets more or less impossible to meet. Naturally, dots remain unconnected, and Germany’s inability to move away from coal is not recognised to be the result of policies lauded by most environmentalists. A new form of denialism.
But how much do Germany’s emissions need to fall? The official target is for greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 to be 40% below 1990 levels. Germany has officially published GHG emissions figures for all years until 2014, and this is what it looks like: Right now, German emits the equivalent of 912 million tonnes of CO2. This target covers everything from burning natural gas to heat homes to the emissions from changing land use. It is mostly CO2, but includes some other greenhouse gases such as methane. The total reduction needed in the next 6 years is 160 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Now. Look closely at the graph above, and you might see a problem. Germany has never reduced its emissions by this much in a 6 year period. In fact, the only time it can remotely close was in the early 1990s, and those cuts were mostly because of the closure of polluting east German industries after the Berlin Wall fell.
What makes it even more difficult is that Germany still has 3.9 GW of nuclear power plants to close before 2020. These power plants have average capacity factors of around 85%, so if we assume their output will be replaced by coal (as it probably will), then this replacement will result in an increase in Germany’s emissions of around 30 million tonnes of CO2 each year.
Furthermore, Germany’s emissions in 2014 were artificially lowered by warmer weather. They fell by 41 million tonnes of CO2eq. in 2014, but the majority of this was due to warm weather. Considering this and the nuclear closures, Germany really has to cut its emissions by something like 200 million tonnes of CO2 eq. in the next 6 years.
This is clearly much faster than anything it has achieved historically, and there is absolutely no indication that Germany’s policies will achieve this. Germany had planned to force coal power plant operators to reduce their emissions by 22 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020, but indications are that this will be rolled back to 16 million tonnes. These numbers are also clear. Politically troublesome regulations of coal power plants will merely result in cuts in emissions that are one tenth of what is needed.
The emissions target, then, will inevitably be abandoned. This appears to have been accepted privately, but denied publicly, by prominent figures in the German government. But baring any unforeseen incident, i.e. a global financial crash, it will be abandoned. I’m taking bets for when.