The coal-fired power station in Niederaussem, Germany (file image)
Steam billows out of chimneys at a coal-fired power station in Niederaussem, Germany.

Facebook post way off target over Germany’s emissions

June 30, 2022

Germany has not reduced emissions in the past decade despite spending $580 billion on renewables.


False. Germany has achieved consistent emissions reductions over many years. The $580 billion figure is a projection for overall energy transition.

Germany has set ambitious targets for reducing fossil fuel emissions, but energy shortages and rising power prices have led some to question the success of the country’s efforts.

A Facebook post (screenshot here) on June 20 claims Germany spent $US580 billion on renewables over the past decade but achieved “zero emissions reductions”.

The claim is false. The $US580 billion figure is a projection for a longer-term transition away from fossil fuels and does not accurately reflect the country’s spending on renewables. Data shows German greenhouse gas emissions dropped about 17 per cent over the past decade.

The Facebook post used a screenshot of a February 2019 tweet by American author and environmental commentator Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of Environmental Progress, a pro-nuclear group.

His 2019 tweet states: “Germany spent $580 billion on renewables over the last decade and got: zero emissions reductions; 50% increase in cost of electricity; electricity supply 2x more carbon-intensive as France’s; electricity nearly 2x expensive as France’s.”

Mr Shellenberger removed the tweet after being contacted by AAP FactCheck earlier in the year.

However, screenshots of the tweet have been widely shared on Facebook, as seen here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. The claim was wrong when Mr Shellenberger originally published the tweet and remains false.

Data from the German environment agency shows that from 2009 to 2018, the decade prior to Mr Shellenberger’s tweet, German greenhouse gas emissions fell from 903 million tonnes to 851 million tonnes, a drop of 5.8 per cent (sheet ‘THG’, row six).

Using June 2022 as the end point for the decade in question, the same data shows emissions fell from 917 million tonnes in 2012 to 762 million tonnes in 2021, a fall of 17 per cent.

Jorn Gierds, a scientific advisor at the German National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech), confirmed Germany’s emissions decreased in the decade prior to Mr Shellenberger’s tweet.

“Germany’s emissions (measured in CO2 equivalents) decreased between 2009 and 2019 from about 902.7 m tonnes to 799.7 m tonnes,” Mr Gierds told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“In 2020, we saw an even sharper decline of emissions in Germany. This led to Germany achieving its climate targets set for 2020 (reduction of emissions by 40 per cent compared to 1990). However, the emission-reducing effects of COVID-19 need to be taken into account for this particular year.”

Katharina Hartz, a project officer at think tank Agora Energiewende, told AAP FactCheck the claim is wrong and Germany’s trend towards reducing emissions has been clear over many years.

“Germany reduced its greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2021 by around 40 per cent,” she said in an email.

“In the last decade (between 2010 and 2021), it reduced emissions by about 20 per cent.”

Mr Shellenberger’s claim Germany has spent $US580 billion on renewables over the last decade is also incorrect.

In his tweet, Mr Shellenberger links to a 2018 Bloomberg News article about Germany’s climate targets, which reported that Germany was spending 500 billion euros or $US580 billion to “overhaul its energy system”.

The Bloomberg article does not provide a source for the figure.

However, other articles (such as here, here and here) link to a 2016 German study that said the total cost of Germany’s energy transition in the electricity sector “will amount to over 520 billion euros by 2025”.

Ms Hartz said if Mr Shellenberger’s claim was based on the Bloomberg article, “it is wrong in the sense that overhauling the energy system is not equal to subsidies for renewables”.

Miriam Borgmann from acatech told AAP FactCheck the Bloomberg article was “talking about the costs for the whole energy transition, not only renewables”.

Germany’s transition away from fossil fuel would also include costs for refurbishing houses to make them more energy-efficient and charging stations for electric vehicles, Ms Borgmann said in an email.

According to the environment agency’s ‘Renewable energies in Germany – Data on development in 2021‘ report, 149 billion euros was invested renewable energy plants between 2012 and 2021 (page 22, table 5).

The Verdict

The claim Germany has not achieved any reduction in emissions despite spending $580 billion on renewables over the last decade is false. The $US580 billion figure is a projected estimate for the cost of the country’s entire energy transition by 2025.

It is also incorrect to claim German greenhouse gas emissions have not fallen. Emissions decreased 5.8 per cent in the decade up to the end of 2018 and by 17 per cent in the decade up to June 2022.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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