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Climate lobby calls for the end of the grace period for drivers

Despite major announcements by the traffic light coalition, the turnaround in traffic in Germany threatens to fail.

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Climate lobby calls for the end of the grace period for drivers

Despite major announcements by the traffic light coalition, the turnaround in traffic in Germany threatens to fail. This is shown by an evaluation by the climate lobby Agora Verkehrswende, which evaluated the status of more than a hundred individual measures in an interim report on government policy. Conclusion: “The interim balance is sobering. The traffic light has hardly achieved anything in transport policy," says Deputy Agora boss Wiebke Zimmer.

For climate protection in transport, the first year of the traffic light government was a lost year. Agora boss Christian Hochfeld speaks of a "rapid standstill". Even the promises in the coalition agreement have hardly been fulfilled. According to the experts, transport remains “the only sector for which the federal government still has no plan to meet the legally prescribed climate targets”. The Mercator Foundation and the European Climate Foundation are behind Agora Verkehrswende.

In the coming year, there will be problems with the most important political lever for reducing emissions in traffic: the switch to electric cars. According to Agora, the fact that the subsidies for the comparatively expensive cars will be noticeably reduced from January 1 threatens “to slow down the pace of electrification of the car fleet”.

Ferdinand Dudenhöffer from the private Center Automotive Research also predicts a "drought period" for electric cars in Germany due to the falling environmental bonus. According to his forecast, the market share of plug-in cars (including plug-in hybrids) rose to 27.8 percent this year - and will fall to 17.8 percent next year.

The federal government's decision to cap the purchase premiums for e-cars at a maximum of 6750 euros and to abolish them entirely for plug-in hybrids "allows car buyers to tackle the electric car with keen fingers", says Dudenhöffer. There would also be some other negative effects, such as the complete abolition of subsidies for fleet operators from September 2023. The car expert also warns that the sharp rise in electricity prices is making buying an e-car increasingly unattractive.

The federal government is sticking to its goal of having around 15 million electric cars on the road by 2030. The coalition accepts the fact that electricity in Germany is currently produced with significantly more CO2 emissions than before the Russian war against Ukraine and the end of Russian gas supplies. There is obviously hope that the proportion of green electricity in the grid will increase sharply in the coming years. Agora boss Hochfeld also calls for a "short-term acceleration of electromobility".

So far, electrification has hardly contributed to CO2 reduction, as the Federal Government's Expert Council for Climate Issues stated in its most recent report: "In recent years, electric and hybrid vehicles have not replaced combustion engines, but have come, often as a second or third car, added to stock,” it says. It was not until 2021 that the stock of diesel and petrol-powered vehicles fell slightly for the first time. So the transition to electric cars is still in its infancy.

The Agora representatives see a “supply offensive” for buses and trains as the second major lever. The necessary expansion of public transport is covered by a debate about tariffs, i.e. the 49-euro ticket. A "changeover offensive" is necessary. "The doubling of passenger numbers in public transport must come at the expense of car traffic," says Hochfeld. This is the only way to achieve more climate protection.

What bothers the climate lobbyists most is that Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) would still protect drivers. In order to achieve something, in their view, he would have to "dismantle outdated subsidies and privileges for the use of cars". They have in mind a reform of the motor vehicle tax with a bonus-malus rule that will lead to higher taxes on emissions and consumption.

Agora is also calling for an end to company car privileges for all vehicles except electric cars. Finally, the coalition agreement contains "the clear intention to comprehensively reform road traffic law and to include new public interest goals in the Road Traffic Act (StVG) in order to give the municipalities more decision-making leeway". Among other things, this involves the establishment of large-scale 30 km/h zones in the cities. Wissing's officials have not yet submitted a draft for this reform.

Instead, they had to write an immediate climate program in the middle of the year because the transport sector missed its climate targets in 2021. However, the measures from this program are only sufficient to make up for the deficit of the past year.

The federal government itself expects that the transport sector will emit a total of 271 million tonnes of CO2 too much from 2022 to 2030 and that its emergency program can only prevent 118 to 175 million tonnes of this. That is why the officials from Wissing and Federal Climate Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) are now working on further measures that are to be presented at the beginning of 2023. Apparently things are not particularly harmonious between the ministries.

Habeck's people, some of whom worked at Agora before coming to power, have different ideas than their transport colleagues, who worked under CSU ministers for decades. It is unlikely that they will pursue goals like Agora boss Hochfeld.

He assumes that the car fleet will “melt” after 2030 because there will then be better alternatives to owning a car. "We see a fleet of around 30 million cars between 2035 and 2040. If there are more vehicles, we won't be able to do it with electricity consumption alone," says Hochfeld. There are currently 48.5 million cars registered in Germany - and the number is increasing.

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