“The decarbonization of the energy system is essential if we are to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius. As the technologies required for the separation, transportation, and storage of CO2 will not be available in the foreseeable future, decarbonization essentially means a 100 percent switch to renewable energies,” says Professor Christian von Hirschhausen, head of the Chair of Economic and Infrastructure Policy.
A recent study published by his Chair shows that a 100 percent switch to renewable energies by 2050 is possible both globally as well as for Germany. This process should also include minimizing the increase in energy consumption and increasing the intensity of our focus on energy efficiency, an approach which has until now been neglected. Professor von Hirschhausen believes that carbon pricing could be used to send a clear signal. The German Environment Agency puts a figure of 180 euros on the environmental damage caused by one ton of CO2. The pricing currently applied, however, ranges between only 20 and 30 euros. This is not sufficient to kick start or speed up a far-reaching transformation of the energy system. Von Hirschhausen calls for infrastructural support and regulations, such as laws to end the use of both coal and natural gas.
The international community, including Germany, is still far from achieving the climate protection goals it has set itself. In the words of Professor von Hirschhausen, Germany’s climate goal for 2020 - a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 - “is failing drastically.” “Previous discussions have focused on ending the use of coal. In the shadow of this discussion, however, a narrative has been developed by the fossil energy business which makes a complete mockery of energy transformation and climate protection; namely that “clean natural gas” can serve as an interim source of energy,” von Hirschhausen adds.
Assigning the role of interim energy source to natural gas is, in his view, a mistake, particularly given the long-term underestimation of the significance of natural gas, which is mainly composed of methane, as a greenhouse gas. Von Hirschhausen also has figures to back this up: Due to its absorption spectrum, methane’s impact on global warming is 100-times greater than that of CO2 over the first two decades. The methane content in the atmosphere has tripled since the pre-industrial era and accounts for approximately 25 percent of global warming.
To provide a comparison: CO2 content has “only” doubled in that period. Professor von Hirschhausen concludes: “Natural gas is not clean; it is the coal of yesterday and as such needs to be removed from the energy system.” He calls for a stop to the expansion of the natural gas infrastructure, such as Pipeline Nord Stream 2 and liquid gas imports from the USA as well as drilling for natural gas in Germany. “It is absurd that they are planning to drill for natural gas near the Schorfheide-Chorin biosphere reserve just 60 kilometers north of Berlin or that a new natural gas pipeline is being laid a few kilometers east of the city limits.”
“Natural gas is yesterday’s coal and we need to stop using it“ is one of the articles for the Covering Climate Now international action week from 15 to 23 September 2019.