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Key results of the study by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy on Germany's contribution to compliance with the 1.5 ° C limit

Limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C would significantly reduce the risks and effects of climate change compared to stronger warming - including the risk of exceeding irreversible tipping points in the climate system. The study by the Wuppertal Institute is therefore discussing the possibilities from today's point of view to comply with the 1.5 ° C limit and thus want to contribute to the social debate about ways to reach it.

Complete study

Climate goals

  • The current climate goals of the federal government are not compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5 ° C or even to well below 2 ° C; They would lead to more than twice as high total CO2 emissions as a path compatible with 1.5 ° C according to the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU).
  • A target in the area of ​​CO2 neutrality by 2035 is necessary based on the national CO2 budget according to the SRU for a contribution to compliance with the 1.5 ° C target. The SRU assumes that per capita emissions are distributed equally around the world and that Germany must not claim a disproportionate share.
  • Even with a target of net zero CO2 emissions by 2035, a greater than linear reduction in emissions would be necessary in the coming years. A steady, linear reduction until 2035 would not be sufficient (see Figure 1).
  • German emissions would have to decrease dramatically, especially in the next five years, and thus especially in the next legislative period.
  • Compliance with the 1.5 ° C budget requires CO2 reduction targets of at least -60% by 2025 and at least -85% by 2030 (compared to 1990 in each case).

Based on these findings, the study examined what is necessary to achieve CO2 neutrality in the individual sectors by 2035.

Energy industry

  • In order to ensure a climate-neutral energy system by 2035, it makes sense to expand wind and solar energy by at least 25 to 30 GW per year.
  • The current goals of the federal government imply an expansion of 9.6 GW per year, which would be too slow by at least a factor of 2.5.
  • On average in 2018 and 2019, the expansion was 6.3 GW per year, i.e. only a quarter of the minimum necessary value.
  • It is very important to get the expansion of onshore wind energy going again. Here, an expansion of at least 7 and better 10 GW per year appears sensible. On average in 2018 and 2019, however, only 1.7 GW were achieved per year; for the year 2020 an expansion of only around 1.5 GW is expected.
  • In addition to the domestic expansion of renewable energies, imports of climate-neutral energy sources (hydrogen, synfuels) produced abroad with renewable energies would have to be added.
  • The expansion of wind and solar energy in Germany could turn out to be a little less if the import of synthetic energy sources were to succeed not only in moderate, but even in very large quantities by 2035. This would require international partnerships on an equal footing with exporting countries. Even then, however, there would still be a domestic expansion requirement of at least 15 GW per year, which is still well above the current goals of the federal government.
  • In order to ensure that the use of fossil gas and oil falls to zero by 2035, an admixture quota for CO2-neutral synthetic fuels, which companies in the gas and oil industries are obliged to adhere to, would be helpful. This could start at 10% in 2026 and be increased by a further 10 percentage points every year until 2035, so that from 2035 onwards, fossil gas and oil may no longer be sold.
  • Hydrogen will be necessary in particular to ensure security of supply in the power supply and for climate-friendly industrial processes (e.g. steel production). At least part of this should be produced within Germany with the help of renewable energies. For the domestic production of hydrogen, an installed capacity of electrolysers of 70 to 90 GW seems to make sense by 2035.2 In contrast, the federal government's hydrogen strategy foresees an output of only 10 GW in 2035 at the earliest.

2 For the estimation of the sensible domestic capacity made here, the operation of the electrolysers was based on the almost 3000 full load hours per year usually assumed in the available literature.


In the next ten years, around half of the industrial plants in some energy-intensive sectors will reach the end of their intended service life and will have to be replaced. Some of the new industrial plants run for over 50 years.

  • It is therefore essential that all new industrial plants can be operated in a climate-neutral manner.
  • But that alone is not enough, because some existing industrial plants are to run well beyond 2035 according to current plans. Therefore, these plants either have to be shut down or converted to non-fossil technologies.
  • A hydrogen pipeline network must be built within a few years to enable the industry to switch to climate neutrality.
  • A consistent circular economy through re-use, re-manufacturing and recycling of products would significantly reduce the energy requirements of industry and thus facilitate its defossilization. Incentives, as well as standards and norms, are essential to promote the circular economy.
  • A CO2 price that is significantly higher than today, in the range of 180 euros per tonne of CO2, such as discussed by the Ecological-Social Market Economy Forum would ensure that all or almost all climate-neutral key technologies achieve a price advantage compared to conventional CO2-intensive technologies.
  • In order to maintain competitiveness, effective carbon leakage protection for the industry must be introduced at the same time.
  • In order to enable entry into climate-neutral production processes, additional instruments are required, such as Carbon Contracts for Difference (CCfD).
  • The construction of the infrastructure for a climate-neutral industry has to begin before the demand for it exists. Otherwise there will not be enough time for the renovation.
  • Likewise, the remaining time is no longer enough to explore all the possibilities of climate-neutral production with an open mind. Decisions must be made now and then implemented with the greatest possible speed and determination.


Traffic in Germany has a very high energy requirement. This must be reduced considerably by 2035 in order to switch to CO2 neutrality. Car and truck traffic are largely responsible for the high energy demand - compared to trains, a car with a combustion engine requires 4.8 times as much energy per kilometer and person, and a truck even 5.6 times as much per ton and kilometer opposite the freight railway.

Steps towards decarbonisation that affect all traffic are in particular:

  • Avoidance and relocation of traffic
  • Significantly higher CO2 prices on fossil fuels
  • Abolition of the numerous climate-damaging subsidies in transport, including the tax exemption for aviation fuel, the diesel privilege, the company car privilege, subsidies for regional airports and preferential treatment for road construction; Furthermore, a socially acceptable redesign of the current disincentives for commuter lump sums.

In order to achieve climate neutrality by 2035, the following are specifically necessary for the individual areas of transport:

passenger traffic

  • Halve car traffic by 2035, at the same time double the capacity of public transport
  • To double the capacity of public transport: double public transport funding to 24 billion euros per year, double annual federal investment in rail infrastructure to 12 billion euros per year
  • Reduce the number of cars in cities to 1/3 of today's value. For this purpose, expansion of the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and public transport, combined with push factors such as city tolls, speed limits and the reduction of lanes and parking spaces
  • A moratorium on highway construction counteracts growing dependency on cars. In contrast to a moratorium, the Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan 2030 of the Ministry of Transport provides for the expansion of the motorways alone by 2000 km.
  • Most of the remaining combustion cars will be replaced by 2035, mainly by battery electric vehicles (among other things because of the three times higher overall efficiency compared to hydrogen cars). In return, the number of new electric car registrations increased to 2 million per year. For comparison: a total of 3.6 million cars were newly registered in 2019, of which only 63,000 were electric cars. The following can contribute to implementation:
    • Registration ban for internal combustion engines: When determining the phase-out date, it must be taken into account that the majority of the car fleet must consist of electric vehicles by 2035 and cars with internal combustion engines will remain in operation for about ten years after registration.
    • Introduction of a registration tax on cars according to a consistent bonus-malus system (in France, 20,000 euros were set for the registration of particularly climate-damaging cars).

Freight transport

  • Relocation of 30% of truck traffic to the railways by 2035. For this, among other things, a sharp increase in truck tolls and use of the resulting income for the expansion of the rail infrastructure
  • Replacement of the remaining small trucks, mainly with battery vehicles
  • Replacement of the remaining articulated lorries with hybrid catenary trucks; This will require the construction of 8,000 km of overhead lines on motorways by 2035. This corresponds to the addition of an average of 550 km of overhead lines per year.

Air travel

  • Termination of domestic German air traffic
  • Reduction of international air traffic by 25%, above all by shifting intra-European flights to rail and further establishing online conferences
  • Use of exclusively synthetic fuels for the remaining air traffic from 2035


  • Central to achieving climate neutrality by 2035 is a massive increase in the energetic renovation rate to the previously unprecedented level of 4% per year. Currently this is only 1%, which even falls far short of the federal government's target of 2%.
  • To increase the energetic renovation rate, a comprehensive mix of measures is necessary, ranging from obligations to renovate in the event of sale or inheritance to effective, socially fair CO2 pricing. But even that is not enough because there is a lack of skilled workers to implement the renovations. An additional training and qualification offensive is therefore required in the skilled trades.
  • The installation of fossil heating systems has to be done within a very short time, i. H. in the next legislative period at the latest. Today the share of fossil heating systems is almost 80% of all new installations, which shows the extent of this challenge.
  • Most of the newly installed heating systems will therefore have to be heat pumps in the years to come.


A fair contribution to compliance with the 1.5 ° C limit can only be made if the coming federal government approaches the transformation at the speed described above. Without a historical focus on reducing CO2 emissions and prioritizing climate protection in all policy areas, this will probably not be possible.

The various parallel challenges outlined in order to achieve the target by 2035 in all sectors represent major challenges in and of themselves and require unprecedented political efforts. It is also necessary to give companies the opportunity to tackle the transformation process without jeopardizing their own competitiveness. Appropriate contributions to maintaining the 1.5 ° C limit are, however, above all not possible without broad approval and participation by society. In particular, this requires a fair design of the achievement of goals that pays attention to social aspects.

It is not so much the technical limits that will determine success or failure, but rather the social and political will. If this is the case, there are no insurmountable obstacles to achieving CO2 neutrality by 2035 on the basis of current knowledge.

Complete study