A full 18 percent of Germans believe that the planned ban on oil and gas heating from the beginning of 2024 is correct, 79 percent are against it, according to a survey by “Stern”. Economics Minister Robert Habeck is looking for the public to take countermeasures: with reassurances, new funding promises and moral appeals, he wants to make the coming heat pump republic palatable to the citizens. It is good news that the draft bill of the traffic light government's building energy law, which was made public last week, was able to develop such tremendous impact.
Because hardly any other topic will have such a drastic effect on the lives of people in Germany in the future as the plans of politicians to fight for climate targets in houses and apartments. With widespread media coverage, more and more citizens are now finding out what to expect – and how serious the government really is about the transformation in the building sector.
And that's not all. In addition to the plans at national level, Brussels is also working flat out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector with a view to the Paris climate targets.
Both together put the building stock in Germany – and its owners – under unprecedented pressure to change. In the name of climate protection, politicians are massively interfering with the most private thing people have: the four walls in which they live. And in a remarkable departure from its duty to provide services of general interest, the state wants to shift the implementation and responsibility of these plans onto the citizens.
While the traffic light coalition is striving for air sovereignty over the boiler room and wants to ban the installation of new oil and gas heating systems from January 1, 2024, the Brussels institutions are working on an amendment to the EU Building Directive (EPBD). As a result, residential buildings are to be brought up to at least European efficiency class E by 2030. Class D should then be mandatory by 2033.
2033 – until then there are still ten years to go. More than half of the approximately 16 million detached and semi-detached houses in Germany are currently assigned to the lower efficiency classes E to H due to their energetic condition. Massive investments in facade insulation, windows, roof and – see above – heating are necessary to bring these buildings into the classes acceptable to the EU.
Even in Germany, the economically strongest country within the EU, many people will simply not be able to afford it. Inflation hits all areas of life and mercilessly restricts financial leeway. In many cases, the promised subsidies are likely to be little more than a placebo. The owners of old buildings in particular are often getting on in years together with their real estate, have paid off their credit over decades - and now, shortly before retirement, they are supposed to start all over again. There is no guarantee that the investment will actually pay for itself.
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But even if they wanted to, some of them would be refused a new loan by the banks anyway - they are often too old, and with the new requirements for energy efficiency, their property naturally also loses value as security. In addition, all owners who have bought their property with a low-interest loan and who will have to complete their follow-up financing in the next few years are threatened with a significant additional burden from debt service alone in view of the rise in interest rates.
In other, poorer countries with significantly poorer building standards, the EU project is even more hopeless. There, however, the people sometimes have a government that is committed to the interests of its citizens.
In Italy, for example, a broad alliance across party lines with the demand for a "balance between ambition and feasibility" exerted such massive pressure on the responsible Irish MEP Ciaran Cuffe (Greens) that the whole project threatened to falter. The boot state Brussels, together with Poland, wrested a number of exceptions, and the countries are also given greater leeway for their national renovation plans.
The fact that it will be used differently in Italy than in Germany should not be too daring a forecast. Together with France, Germany would have preferred to push through the stricter version of the building directive - proof of how much politicians misjudge, disregard and underestimate the situation, the needs and the reality of people's lives. And thus jeopardizes trust in politics and social peace.
Of course, there are still people who believe that the air-conditioning grip from Berlin and Brussels will not affect them because they don't own any real estate. This is often a fallacy: Because where rented houses and apartments are forcibly renovated, the owner will get his investment back from the tenant through the rent.
Politicians make many owners and tenants with loss of prosperity pay for a sacrifice that does not even do anything for the climate - because the oil and gas that is no longer burned in Germany is then simply used for heating elsewhere. In any case, it will not remain unused in the ground, as the European way finds too few imitators.
In the front gardens of German households, however, in the future, despite the uncertain, sometimes not at all green power supply, the heat pump will hum and provide heat in the house. That's what the Greens want. It's a plan with a longer history than Robert Habeck's inauguration date as Economics and Climate Minister would suggest.
The goal he set, for example, to have six million heat pumps in Germany by 2030, can already be found in a study by the so-called think tank Agora Energiewende from February 2017. Patrick Graichen was the director of the organization at the time. Today he is Secretary of State under Habeck.
Those who cannot afford to renovate and say goodbye to fossil fuel heating systems will also have to bow to the plan. They will have to part with their homes - and then become a burden on a rental housing market that is already hopelessly overburdened. Within just a few years, Germany's population has risen to 84 million, politicians are showing no signs of wanting to control further immigration, and the Ministry of Construction is desperately trying to return to the new construction target of 400,000 apartments per year from the early days of the coalition, which now seems like it's from another world to capture This collateral damage is also the responsibility of those who overwhelm citizens with their policies.
How can we still live and heat in the future? It is important that this question is suddenly given space in the public debate. It puts politicians under pressure to pursue goals with a sense of proportion, to find a balance between what is desired and what is feasible, and to involve people in their actions. Green politics, charged with the will of 14.8 percent of the voters, will hardly be sustainable for long if they disregard their will and the reality of their lives.
A kind of warning sign may have just been observed in Frankfurt/Main: There, a Green Party candidate quite unexpectedly missed the run-off election for the office of mayor. She entered the election campaign with one central topic: making Frankfurt climate-neutral by 2035.
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