GERMANY’S love affair with fast cars and big engines has been blamed for an acceleration in greenhouse gas emissions despite the country’s image as a carbon-cutting economy.
The equivalent of 906m tonnes of CO2 was pumped into the atmosphere last year, compared with 902m tonnes in 2015, the German environment agency said.
Vehicles were the main culprit. While only 11,000 Germans bought electric cars last year — despite cash incentives — 716,000 chose SUVs or off-road vehicles which generally have the highest emissions.
Sales of luxury Porsches and Audis are booming despite the woes at their parent company, Volkswagen, which is facing compensation claims in the US for cheating on regulatory emissions tests. VW has only added to Germany’s pollution problem by illegally pumping out high levels of nitrogen oxide from many of its diesel models. Carbon dioxide from vehicle exhaust fumes increased by 3.4 per cent.
Angela Merkel led the European Union’s push for 20% lower CO2 emissions by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, across the 28 member nations. Germany has already passed this baseline EU goal with a 27% reduction. Mrs Merkel went much further and set a unilateral reduction target of 40% for Germany by 2020, but last year’s figures show it would have to cut emissions by 40m tonnes a year to hit that target.
There is little room for manoeuvre because 40% of German electricity generation comes from high-polluting coal power. The government is reluctant to take these plants offline while Mrs Merkel prioritises another goal — the phase-out of all nuclear power by 2022, a decision she made after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
Campaigners say that renewable energy could do more of the work after 53% of German electricity was generated by wind power on one breezy day this month.
“We can shut down coal-fired power stations because we have enough renewable energy on the grid. It is a question of political will to force the energy transition,” said Karsten Smid of Greenpeace. He accused the centre-left Social Democratic Party of blocking the closure of coal mines because of the votes of the miners who work there.
David Charter, Berlin
This article first appeared in The Times