2020 emissions data only a snapshot

The first report of the Council of Experts on Climate Change evaluates the previous year’s estimate of greenhouse gas emissions by the Federal Environment Agency and makes proposals for the future process.


Berlin, 15.04.2021 – The Council of Experts on Climate Change Issues today presented its first report and handed it over to Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. In the report, prepared in accordance with Section 12 of the Federal Climate Change Act, it examines and evaluates the previous year’s estimate of German greenhouse gas emissions, which was broken down into seven sectors by the Federal Environment Agency on 15 March. This is the first time that the independent body, which was appointed by the Federal Government in September 2020, has been involved in the mechanism to ensure that national climate protection targets are achieved.


Verification of emission data


The core of the 140-page report is an examination of the complex methodology of the previous year’s estimate. The Council of Experts has randomly reviewed the figures and finds no evidence that the authority should have arrived at different results in its point value estimates. The reported emission values were below the annual target values specified in the Act for all sectors mentioned in the Federal Climate Change Act with the exception of the building sector. However, the early stage of reporting means that some data sources for determining the emission values of the sectors as accurately as possible are not yet complete or are only available as estimates.


Classification of the results


With a view to the special effects of 2020, which were mainly shaped by the measures to contain the Covid 19 pandemic, the Council of Experts classifies the emission data in the individual sectors in a broader analysis. Based on a trend extrapolation of historical emissions data for 2020, the finding is that the transportation sector would have exceeded its maximum emissions level specified in the Federal Climate Change Act. All other sectors would have met their respective targets, including the building sector. The comprehensive analysis also refers to the European Council’s recent decision that EU-wide greenhouse gas emissions should be 55 percent lower in 2030 than in 1990, instead of 40, and discusses the possible implications for national sector targets in Germany. “Given the dynamic environment, it seems misguided to judge the success or failure of climate protection in a given sector based on a single figure alone,” explains Hans-Martin Henning, chairman of the Council of Experts. “Moreover, the snapshot is fuzzy. For some sectors, the data uncertainties and subsequent need for correction that we have analysed are of the same magnitude as the legally required annual reduction, and in some cases even higher.”


Further development of the law


Against the background of the first audit experience, the expert panel concludes that there is still room for improvement in the future process. For example, the accuracy of the previous year’s estimate could be increased by collecting additional data and expanding the methods. Furthermore, the panel suggests establishing an additional review mechanism to further develop the effectiveness of the Federal Climate Change Act. “According to certain criteria yet to be defined, it might be appropriate that an immediate action program should nevertheless be submitted for a sector regardless of formal target achievement,” explains Brigitte Knopf, Vice Chair of the Expert Panel. “In the corresponding assessment, it would also be necessary to examine whether structural reasons or, above all, special effects were decisive for the achievement of the target if the maximum permissible emission quantity was not reached. Climate policy measures that have already been introduced would also have to be taken into account.”


The report is available here: https://www.expertenrat-klima.de/en/publikationen/


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The Expert Panel on Climate Change (ERK) is an independent panel of five experts from various disciplines. It was appointed in September 2020 and is mandated by Section 11 and Section 12 of the Federal Climate Change Act (KSG). The panel consists of the five members Prof. Dr. Hans-Martin Henning (Chair), Dr. Brigitte Knopf (Deputy Chair), Prof. Dr. Marc Oliver Bettzüge, Prof. Dr. Thomas Heimer and Dr. Barbara Schlomann. In addition to other statutory tasks, the Council of Experts on Climate Change reviews the emissions data of the Federal Environment Agency pursuant to Section 12 (1) KSG and submits an assessment of the published data to the Federal Government and the German Bundestag within one month.


Visit https://expertenrat-klima.de for more information about the Council of Experts on Climate Change and its publications. Follow us on Twitter: @ERK_Klima


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Ulrich von Lampe Head of Press and Public Relations Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) Phone: +49 (0) 30 338 5537 201 Mobile: +49 (0) 171 1964 449 Email: