Carbon neutrality goals for Europe’s biggest economy are in danger of being nixed in light of ongoing economic sanctions against Russia, which have, in turn, curtailed the inflow of natural gas exports.

The German government announced that, as a way of dropping its reliance on Russian gas, 21 coal-fired power plants would be brought back into operation or allowed to operate well beyond planned termination dates, at least for the next couple of winters.

Before the announcement, Germany’s coal production sector was on its last legs, and the last of its coal pits ceased operations over a decade ago. Now, coal plants are scrambling to get back into shape, hiring personnel while conducting inspections to determine the operability of equipment.

A Temporary Measure

But the German government has been quick to assure environmentalists that this is just a temporary measure while it works double-time to ramp up its solutions for renewable energy.

Despite this, experts feel that even a short-term increase in emissions will make it harder for Germany to meet its carbon neutrality goals by 2030, essentially decreasing its greenhouse emissions by around 65% of levels in the ’90s.

Indeed, according to Simon Müller, German country director for climate-centric NGO Agora Energiewende, reopened plants are expected to contribute between 20 million to 30 million tons of greenhouse gasses a year, approximately 4% of the country’s total annual emissions. 

In which case, only a rollout of renewables on a large scale, as well as the expansion of the national power grid, could break German reliance on fossil fuel imports and set it back on track to meet its climate goals on time.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether or not Germany will go over its set 257 million tons of power industry-specific carbon emissions for this year.

The Rough Road to Renewable Energy

Germany has struggled to implement renewable power technologies over the past several years. In the past year alone, coal and lignite-generated energy made up around 28% of the nation’s power production; this, in turn, led to a 4.5% increase in overall emissions. A particularly cold winter led to greater use of coal for power, along with low winds for powering wind farms and the soaring price of natural gas.

For her part, Claudia Kemfert of the German Institute for Economic Research opines that the bureaucracy itself is to blame for the country’s difficulties in meeting its climate goals. Red tape has essentially held back the development of the German renewables industry, and officials have been slow about implementing necessary measures for fast-tracking initiatives.