Uncertainties remain as cabinet approves climate deal

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The Grand Coalition cabinet has approved the two central building blocks of the climate package. The bill is thus one step closer to being passed in parliament, even though fundamental criticism of the government’s plans continues.

It remained unclear until the early hours of the morning that not only the “Climate Protection Programme” but also the future climate protection law would be on the agenda of the Chancellor’s Office. When Environment Minister Svenja Schulze was interviewed in public television this morning, the decision was still very recent.

“The Ministry of the Environment has been ignored too often.”

The Climate Protection Programme describes the projects that Germany intends to implement in order to achieve the goal of reducing total CO2 emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. The Climate Protection Act is intended to set annual targets and upper limits for individual sectors such as transport or agriculture for the years 2020 to 2030.

“Now, climate protection will have binding rules”, said Schulze. “Above all, each minister is now directly responsible for his or her own area.” Too often, according to her, the opinion of the Ministry of the Environment was ignored. “Too often , environmental concerns were downplayed”, Schulze said at her press conference.

A “solemn promise” from the Chancellor

On 20 September, after a long night of negotiations, the German government presented the key points of its climate pact. The criticism from environmental associations, the scientific community, the opposition and the “Fridays for Future” movement has since been ongoing and significant. According to them, Germany would not achieve its CO2 targets with these plans. In particular, the entry-level CO2 price of ten euros per tonne would have no sufficient effect.

The government, on the other hand, asserted that there would be strict controls on the functioning of the mechanism. On Monday, the Chancellor gave her word of honour: “This monitoring will be clearly anchored in the climate protection law. Otherwise I won’t allow it to pass.”

No direct penalties

So what happens if a minister in their sector – for example transport – exceeds the CO2 limit of one year? If such a violation is detected by the “External Expert Council”, the ministry concerned must submit an immediate programme within three months “to ensure compliance with the sector’s annual emission levels for the following years”, according to Section 8 of the Climate Protection Act.

Sanctions – i.e. direct penalties – are still not provided for in the version of the Climate Protection Act approved today by the cabinet. The goverment counts on public pressure instead: If Germany does not comply with its annual CO2 targets, pollution certificates must be purchased and EU penalties lurk.

No ministry wants to be the scapegoat

The costs would then be borne by the federal government as a whole. But no ministry wants to remain a scapegoat and be responsible for the lack of billions in the federal budget, or so the Environment Ministry hopes. It is also possible for one sector to offset another’s CO2 deficits. This presupposes, however, that such an “exchange partner” with surpluses exists at all.

The climate protection law stipulates the annual CO2 targets only until 2030. However, the final version has been supplemented by the following point: “In the year 2025, the Federal Government will set annually decreasing emission quantities for further periods after the year 2030 by executive order”.

Consequences for citizens still unclear

Since the climate deal has been discussed, citizens have been asking themselves: What is changing for me? On more than 170 pages, the government lists in the Climate Protection Programme how the CO2 targets are to be achieved. Central element: the CO2 price. The criticism of the initial ten euros per tonne remains. For example, the impact on petrol prices will be negligent, say environmental associations and scientists. Therefore, a switch away from the automobile would not be incentivised.

The exact effects for the wallets of consumers is hard to quantify at the present time. Many detailed questions still need to be worked out.

Law to come into force at the beginning of 2020

Two examples: It is clear that from 2021, the motor vehicle tax is to rise for cars with high petrol consumption (CO2 emissions of more than 95 grams per kilometre). But it is unclear what this increase will look like. It further remains unclear how exactly (inland) flights are to be made more expensive.

According to the cabinet, the climate bill will now go through the Bundestag and Bundesrat. Time is of the essence as the law is to come into force at the beginning of 2020.

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