Europe

Plane tickets to cost more with Germany's new climate-protection law

Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, and delegates voted on a new climate-protection law on Friday.Credit... Source: Getty Images

A new law in Germany will include tax breaks for train tickets and tax increases to be levied on the price of airline tickets — in an attempt to make it more attractive for people to choose trains, which emit lower levels of carbon dioxide, over higher-emitting planes.

Germany enshrined its fight against climate change into law on Friday in a bid to meet its targets under the Paris Agreement, approving a raft of measures including a $60 billion spending package, a fee system for carbon emissions and taxes to make flying more expensive.

The law, which passed the lower house of Parliament and is expected to pass the upper house later this year, has been sharply criticised by opposition lawmakers and climate scientists alike for its lack of ambition and scope.

They say it will not be enough to get the country to achieve its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55 per cent of 1990s levels by 2030.

“You have failed in humanity’s task of protecting the climate,” Anton Hofreiter, leader of the opposition Green Party caucus in Parliament, told lawmakers ahead of the vote on Friday.

A coal-fired power plant in Mannheim, Germany. The country has a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent of 1990s levels by 2030.Credit...
A coal-fired power plant in Mannheim, Germany. The country has a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent of 1990s levels by 2030.Credit...
Gordon Welters for The New York Times

Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, who was known as the “climate chancellor” when she first took office in 2005 after making a name for herself as environment minister, had vowed to prioritise the issue in her final term in office.

In September, after months of debate, her government passed a climate package that forms the heart of the new law.

The environment minister, Svenja Schulze, told reporters after the vote: “I am very happy that the centrepiece of the package, the climate action law, has now been passed. It is the central point, the linchpin, with which climate policy in Germany will really change.”

Germany is Europe’s largest economy, and it has sought for years to revolutionise its energy sector by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy such as solar, wind and biogas while cutting climate-killing emissions.

But the country fell behind this year, and the government admitted that it would be able to cut emissions by only 32 per cent of 1990s levels by 2020, not the targeted goal of 40 per cent.

Under the new law, ministries must make specific emissions reductions in their sectors, such as energy, transportation or housing, and take additional steps if necessary to meet them.

An important element of the package is a domestic carbon pricing scheme that will force companies to pay an initial 10 euros, about $11, for a ton of carbon dioxide emissions from heating and transportation.

Climate scientists and members of the Greens have derided the price — which is to increase to 35 euros by 2025 — as too low to be effective.

The Greens hold more seats in the upper house of Parliament, reflecting their representation in Germany’s 16 states, and have vowed to use their strength there and in regional legislatures to tighten aspects of the law.

A wind farm near Berlin. Climate scientists say the new legislation would not be enough for Germany to meet its 2030 goals. Credit...
A wind farm near Berlin. Climate scientists say the new legislation would not be enough for Germany to meet its 2030 goals. Credit...
Gordon Welters for The New York Times

Included in the 54 billion euros, or about $60 billion, spending package are incentives for buying electric cars, replacing oil-burning furnaces and better insulating private properties.

 

The law also includes tax breaks for train tickets and tax increases to be levied on the price of airline tickets — all aimed at making it more attractive for people to choose trains, which emit lower levels of carbon dioxide, over higher-emitting planes.

At the same time, the package includes increased benefits for commuters to avoid a backlash as occurred in France, where a proposed gas tax increase set off months of violent demonstrations by the “Yellow Vest” movement.

Further incentives in the law foresee supporting the expansion of green energy, such as allowing communities a stake in local wind parks. Lawsuits have slowed the building of many proposed wind parks, hampering their expansion.

Climate scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research who assessed the package at the heart of the law said that without a higher price on carbon emissions, effective monitoring and better integration with other European Union nations, the legislation would not be enough for Germany to meet its 2030 goals.

“The climate package is, at best, an indication of a change of direction,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, the director of the institute, “but this has not yet taken place.”

By Melissa Eddy © 2019 The New York Times

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