Germany has fashioned itself as the world’s foremost authority on green governance with the implementation of its so-called energiewende, or energy transition, that has greatly boosted solar and wind power through the use of government subsidies called feed-in tariffs. These renewables were one of the tools with which Berlin was planning to achieve its aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets, but it appears that they’re not going to be enough. As Reuters reports, Germany looks set to miss those emissions targets by a wide margin:
Germany is at risk of missing its 2020 target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990, an environment ministry report showed on Wednesday. Emissions were down by just 27 percent in 2015, it said. […]
Since 2014, Germany has stepped up efforts to cut emissions with measures such as improving energy efficiency, trying to boost demand for electric cars and agreeing to mothball some brown coal power plants. The action plan was expected to save between 62 million and 78 million tonnes of carbon dioxide but now the government expects savings of just 58 million tonnes, the report said.
By blazing a new trail, Germany’s energiewende has provided policymakers elsewhere with plenty of useful lessons. Unfortunately for Berlin, most of those lessons seem to be cautionary. Germany has gone all-in on the current generation of wind and solar technologies, despite those energy sources being incapable of competing with fossil fuels on cost. To get around that, the energiewende has guaranteed wind and solar power producers long-term, above-market prices (those aforementioned feed-in tariffs), but even that lavish government support has been unable to lead to the sorts of GHG reductions Germany has been hoping for.
But the biggest lesson the energiewende has taught has been on the subject of nuclear power, namely the folly of buying into anti-nuclear green biases. Germany expedited the shuttering of its fleet of nuclear power plants following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, despite the fact that the central European country—unlike Japan—sits atop no major fault line, and is exposed to none of the risks of natural disaster that plague the East Asian island nation. This was an odd move for a country that professed to care so much about its emissions, because nuclear power is one of the only options for zero-emissions baseload power. By closing those plants, Germany ensured its continued reliance on lignite coal—a particularly dirty variety of the particularly dirty fossil fuel—as an alternative.
Given all of that, it’s not surprising that Berlin is struggling to meet its emissions targets. If Germany really cared about reducing its greenhouse gases, it would be looking at ways to invest in and construct the next generation of nuclear power plants, rather than closing the facilities it already has.