The climate protection law is a bad design – a comment

E-car charging

Battery powered cars are the preferred means of reducing CO2 emissions in the transport sector. In order to also reach the number of 47 million cars with combustion engines, hydrogen-based fuels or second-generation biofuels represent an alternative.

(Photo: IMAGO/Arnulf Hettrich)

There is no need to wait until the presentation of the German greenhouse gas balance for 2022 on Wednesday, because it is already clear: the transport and building sectors will clearly miss their targets. The responsible ministries will soon have to present packages with countermeasures worth billions. This is stipulated in the Climate Protection Act.

It is already clear that there will be a lot of excitement about the failure of the Ministry of Construction and especially the Ministry of Transport. But does the publication of the annual balance sheet for 2022 reveal the failings of the respective ministries? Yes, in part. But the ritual reveals something completely different to a much greater extent: the Climate Protection Act is a bad design.

When the then grand coalition passed the law in 2019 and sharpened it again in 2021, perhaps not everyone involved was aware of the mechanism that had been set in motion. The law tries to force the sectors relevant to climate protection onto the path of virtue on an annual basis.

Investment cycles not taken into account

From the start there was harsh criticism that ignoring investment cycles was nonsensical – and rightly so. For example, why do you have to force industry today to optimize your old systems to the limit when they could better invest the money in hydrogen-based processes in order to become climate-neutral more quickly? And who knows when there will be leaps in innovation in a sector that could mean that it makes sense to save a lot more CO2 in one sector and less in others?

Why the rigid distinction between individual sectors at all? After all, it is politically desirable to dissolve the sector boundaries. In any case, the law largely omits questions about the feasibility and economic viability of individual measures.

The law thus puts a corset on the entire economy, which suffocates it in some places and gives it too much room in others. But nobody knows exactly where it will pinch and where it is cut too generously.

Environment department torpedoes biofuels

These design flaws are currently being magnified. Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing may be accused of not being the most creative of all ministers when it comes to climate protection. But at the same time it should not be deprived of the tools that could enable it to make progress on climate protection.

But that is exactly what his cabinet colleague Steffi Lemke has been trying to do for months. The environmental department has traditionally torpedoed the use of conventional biofuels and is doing everything in its power to reduce it. In the case of hydrogen-based fuels and second-generation biofuels, which are made from plant waste, for example, and are completely unaffected by the fuel-plate debate, the Ministry of the Environment only recently turned around after a long blockade. The refusal of the Ministry of the Environment to block the use of green hydrogen in the refinery process from being counted towards the CO2 balance is downright irresponsible.

In short: All instruments that would be suitable for advancing the existing fleet of 47 million motor vehicles in climate protection are consistently made mad in Wissing. Instead, his coalition partners refer to 100 km/h on motorways. As anachronistic as the lack of a speed limit in Germany is, a speed limit is of little use in the fight against climate change.

And there’s no use throwing in quick fix measures with billions of euros, as the transport and building ministries are now having to do. Climate protection cannot be more inefficient and expensive.

More: Hydrogen strategy on the home stretch – but implementation remains uncertain

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