Did Germany reach its 2020 climate targets thanks to COVID-19?

This question is answered by Shivenes Shammugam, Joachim Schleich, Barbara Schlomann (member of the German Council of Experts on Climate Change) and Lorenzo Montrone as contributors to the Report on the Estimate of German Greenhouse Gas Emissions for the Year 2020 in an independent research paper published in the Journal Climate Policy.


The German Federal Climate Change Act includes binding annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets for the economic sectors energy, industry, buildings, transport, agriculture and waste. For sectors that fail to meet their targets, climate policy measures have to be implemented immediately. In 2020, the building sector missed its target while the other sectors have achieved their targets (see ERK-Report on the Estimate of German Greenhouse Gas Emissions for the Year 2020). However, some sectors may only have achieved their targets thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others may have missed their targets because of COVID-19. For policy making, it is therefore important to disentangle the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic from the effects of policy and other drivers on emissions.

Summary of the research paper

In this paper, the effects of the pandemic on GHG emissions in Germany in 2020 are estimated at the national level and at the levels of the economic sectors. How emissions would have developed without the Covid-19 pandemic is estimated on the basis of autoregressive econometric models. The findings at the national level suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic lowered GHG emissions in 2020 in Germany by about 41 Mt CO2-eq (5%) compared to counterfactual emissions. Accordingly, nearly 60% of the reduction in emissions between 2019 and 2020 in Germany may be attributed to the pandemic.

The findings at the sectoral level imply that without the COVID-19 pandemic, all sectors with the exception of the transport sector, i.e. also the buildings sector, would have met their emissions target in 2020 as set in the Federal Climate Change Act. The transport sector would have missed its emission target in 2020 without COVID-19 (+15,4 Mt CO2-eq). This could indicate that the climate protection policy measures taken so far in the transport sector are not sufficient to achieve the emission path specified in the Federal Climate Protection Act even without an emission-reducing effect like COVID-19.

Shammugam, S., Schleich, J., Schlomann, B., Montrone, L., 2022. Did Germany reach its 2020 climate targets thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic? Climate Policy, 2022. DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2022.2063247

Link: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14693062.2022.2063247