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Europe’s largest carbon emitter failed to curb emissions in 2022

Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions remained steady last year despite falling energy consumption and favourable weather due to higher use of coal and oil in its energy generation.

According to climate think tank Agora Energiewende, Europe’s largest CO2 emitter needs to “urgently” implement structural measures to achieve both climate targets and energy security.

Greenhouse gas emissions stagnated at around 761 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, which means last year was the second time that the country has failed to meet its target.

“CO2 emissions are stagnating at a high level, despite significantly lower energy consumption by households and industry. This is an alarm signal with regard to the climate goals,” said Simon Müller, a director at Agora Energiewende.

According to an evaluation by the firm, energy consumption in Germany fell by 4.7 per cent or 162 terawatt-hours compared to 2021, partly as a result of the massive price increases for natural gas and electricity and mild weather.

Energy consumption even fell below 2020 levels when the Covid-19 pandemic caused a drastic reduction in demand as people stayed at home.

But the increased use of coal and oil in 2022 nullified the emission reductions through energy savings despite the fact that the share of renewable energies in electricity consumption also reached new highs due to the weather.

“In 2022, short-term energy security measures have left climate targets behind. The government also failed to implement the immediate climate protection programme announced in the coalition agreement for 2022,” Müller added.

Public approval of the energy transition was found to have grown significantly, with households and companies increasingly eager to switch to climate-neutral technologies. Demand for solar systems or heat pumps was found to have skyrocketed in 2022.

“In 2023, the government must reverse the trend: get out of fossil energies and consistently into renewables. That helps the climate, lowers prices and makes us independent of fossil energy imports,” Müller said.

The main driver of rising CO2 emissions from the energy industry was the higher generation of electricity from coal due to the sharp rise in natural gas prices. Overall, the reduction target of 257 million tonnes of CO2 stipulated in the Climate Protection Act was only just met.

In 2019, Germany pledged to close all of its coal-fired plants by 2038 and move towards alternative energy sources. This was followed by a joint announcement last year from G7 countries to significantly curb the use of coal and other fossil fuels in electricity production.

Historically, Germany has been more reliant on coal than its neighbours as it is Europe’s primary coal producer.

Nevertheless, renewable energies produced more electricity in Germany than ever before in 2022, at 248 terawatt-hours - an increase of 22TWh or 10 per cent compared to 2021.

Wind power remained the largest electricity supplier among the renewables with 126TWh. At the same time, electricity production from solar systems increased by 23 per cent to 60TWh compared to 2021 - thanks to an above-average sunny year and an increase of 7.2 gigawatts of capacity.

Overall, the renewable energy capacity at the end of the year was 148 gigawatts, 9.6GW more than in 2021.

“The record year for renewable energies is weather-related and therefore not a structural contribution to climate protection,” Müller said while warning that Germany is heading for a massive gap in the expansion of renewables.

Only around 2 gigawatts of wind energy infrastructure were added in 2022.

“The government must now make decisive and quick improvements, because we need to triple the expansion from 2023 in order to achieve the 2030 renewables target,” Müller said.

This year, energy prices are expected to remain at a high level, although the rapid expansion of solar energy could help to dampen prices.

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