On Wednesday, the German Environmental Advisory Council (SRU) published a new calculation of how much carbon dioxide (CO₂) Germany can still emit to align with Paris climate goals. Accordingly, the amount of future emissions derived from the German climate protection law approaches at least an appropriate contribution to the global temperature limit to 1.75 degrees. To do this, however, the objectives set out in law must be complied with.
In 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) updated its estimates of the remaining global carbon budget depending on the temperature target. The Rapid Response Unit has now updated its previous calculations based on the new IPCC figures. Accordingly, Germany will still have to emit 6.1 GtCO2 from 2022 if the global target is to stay below 1.75°C with a probability of 67 percent.
With current emissions, this budget will run for another nine years. If emissions are constantly reduced, Germany will have to become CO2-neutral by 2040. In old calculations, this was supposed to happen in 2038. However, for a 50 percent chance of 1.5 degrees, only 3.1 would be left gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, which means that carbon dioxide neutrality should be achieved in 2031 instead of 2032.
Transforming global budgets into countries is complicated
However, such calculations, which allocate IPCC budgets to individual countries, are controversial. It is also not clear how Germany’s climate protection law fits in with these numbers. “There is no German budget for the Labor Office, only Germans who want to budget for CO₂,” says Oliver Gidden of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, lead author of the IPCC’s current report.
As part of the Paris climate agreement, Germany committed itself to limiting global temperature rise to below two degrees, along with other countries. In its reports, the IPCC provides budgets for the total amount of carbon dioxide that could still be emitted depending on the target temperature target. But neither the IPCC nor the Paris Convention provides any specific information about how this amount is divided between individual countries.
In addition, Germany’s climate protection law refers to all greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, which are specifically released in agriculture. However, since these gases remain in the atmosphere for a much shorter period than carbon dioxide – in the case of methane, it is no more than twelve years on average – there can be no total budget for these gases: the methane emitted today is hardly adequate temperature at the turn of the century. This varies with CO₂.
The SRU recommends solving the problem of simply distributing the remaining CO₂ budget immediately after the signing of the Paris Agreement between countries according to their population. This is how the council came up with a budget for Germany from which the emissions of the last few years had to be deducted to get the remaining budget.
However, this account is controversial. According to this principle, countries like Australia or the United States would have to become CO2-neutral in just a few years in order to stay well below two degrees, which is unrealistic. It would be easier for such countries if current emissions were included in the calculation, which is also known as “grandfather”. However, the SRU rejects this as unfair. “well justified” are approaches that include historical emissions and economic development rights for poor countries; However, this would further reduce the budget of the industrialized countries.
Climate targets are likely to be missed again for now
When comparing them with German climate protection plans, the SRU cites existing calculations through the New Economic Work Concept and an account made by the Climate Research Institute Mercator MCC, in which Oliver Gidden was also involved. Under various assumptions, one can estimate the size of the share of carbon dioxide in planned emissions – it is currently almost 90 percent, which is significantly more than the world average. From this, the amount of carbon dioxide that is estimated to disappear in natural basins such as forests or swamps must be deducted. Depending on the calculation, there are approximately six to seven gigatons of carbon dioxide left, which will likely be emitted by 2045. This would put Germany roughly on a 1.75 degree trajectory compared to the SRU figures.
The target years also go well together: in Germany, climate neutrality is planned for 2045, while the SRU aims for carbon dioxide neutrality by 2040 with a temperature target of 1.75 degrees. However, since carbon neutrality means that residual methane and nitrous oxide emissions are offset by the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, carbon neutrality must be achieved sooner. “I estimate that EU CO2 neutrality will be achieved five to ten years before greenhouse gas neutrality,” says Oliver Gidden.
The Federal Constitutional Court also referred to the union’s budgetary accounts when it decided in a landmark decision last year that German climate plans that had been in force until then were incompatible with the fundamental rights of future generations; As a result, the Climate Protection Act was amended. It now contains annual emissions targets from industry, the energy sector, transportation, buildings, agriculture, and other sources of greenhouse gases until 2030 and overall annual reduction targets until 2040. However, in 2021, the transportation and construction sectors haven’t missed their targets. Climate Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has already admitted that not all targets will be met in 2022 and 2023 either.