Göttingen’s Climate History

Climate protection in Göttingen:

unfortunately not a success story

In the year 1991, the town of Göttingen joined the climate alliance „Klimabündnis/Alianza del Clima e.V.“ and committed to a plan of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 10% every five years. Had the authorities stuck to that plan, we would be seeing a reduction of emissions to no more than half the numbers from 1991 – in reality, the numbers were still above 70% in 2018.[1] The authorities have fallen short of the reduction target they committed to.

In 2010, an integrated climate protection paper for Göttingen and its neighbouring towns, called „Integriertes Klimaschutzkonzept für das Stadtgebiet Göttingen 2008 bis 2020“[2], was presented with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2020 compared with 1990. And again, the target was missed.

In 2014, the town administration presented a „Masterplan 100% Klimaschutz Göttingen”[3], containing the town‘s zero-emission target by 2050. Unfortunately, the realization was far from successful. In fact, the plan‘s evaluation [4] shows that, instead of declining, greenhouse gas emissions have increased from 2014 until 2018. The majority of the targeted (and frankly put, modest) aims for 2020 were critically missed, most notably the expansion of renewable energies (only 4% instead of the targeted 18% of the total consumption of energy, excluding traffic). Photovoltaics, for instance, were thought to cover a capacity of 136 MWp – only around 10% of that mark were accomplished.

The town did not even fulfill its role model task regarding properties. The town’s energy report („Energiebericht 2012 –2016“[5]) documents that greenhouse gas emissions in its municipal institutions have, in total, increased between 2010 and 2016. The only notable (albeit small) saving was identified in the department of street lighting. In the evaluation report to the Masterplan 2020[6] in figure 11, it becomes clear that the town’s administration did not expand photovoltaic on its properties between 2012 and 2018.

Currently, the city has completed and presented the update of the master plan (“Climate Plan Göttingen 2030”). This work was published divided into a concept volume and a volume of measures. The city’s website states: “The new Climate Plan Göttingen 2030 describes the city’s climate protection strategies and identifies measures and projects for the next ten years on the path to climate neutrality.” [7]

As expected, the target year for climate neutrality (contrary to what the title implies) is still not 2030. Instead, the plan assumes the current federal government’s targets of 65% CO2 reduction by 2030 and 95% reduction by 2045.

This is far too late if we are to meet our commitment from the Paris Climate Agreement to make our contribution to limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees. This contribution is derived from the remaining greenhouse gas budget for Germany, which will be exhausted before 2030 with only a 50% chance of not exceeding the 1.5 degree limit if we “keep it up.”.[8]

The search for the measures and projects announced on the website also leave much to be desired: one looks in vain here for a structured timeline of the measures with milestones and an elaborate concept for tracking the goals (monitoring and controlling). It is therefore high time that the people living in Göttingen put pressure on local politics to finally implement substantial measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially in those areas where the city has clear opportunities to exert influence. These are primarily the areas of transportation, expansion of renewable energies, energy-efficient building renovation and new construction. Overall, however, a complete change of direction is required at the federal level in order to give local authorities the necessary financial and legal means to finally implement the effective climate protection that is so urgently needed.

Our statement on the City Council’s climate plan:

It is to be welcomed that the city of Göttingen is making a new attempt to give its climate policy a binding structure with a plan of measures. Unfortunately, however, the present draft for the “Climate Plan Göttingen 2030” consists largely of non-binding declarations of intent and a list of possible measures in various sectors. It also contains serious technical errors in basic calculations.
What is expected from an implementable plan, namely a structured time schedule of the measures with milestones and an elaborated concept for target tracking (monitoring and controlling), is searched for in vain. Even if legal framework conditions and financing options still have to be created in some cases, a plan that is to be taken seriously must show which measures have to be completed and when in order to achieve the climate targets that have been set.

Contrary to its title, the plan is based on the current federal government’s targets of 65% CO2 reduction by 2030 and 95% reduction by 2045, and breaks these targets down to sectors. At no point, however, is it shown how these minimum targets are to be achieved through a sensible sequence of measures, each underpinned by concrete reduction contributions.

Climate neutrality by 2030 is not the goal of this targeted path, so that an application to the EU program “100 Climate Neutral Cities 2030” with such a plan has no chances of success. Just a simple adjustment of the targeted path without a correspondingly structured time schedule of measures, would be just eyewashing and not effectively changing anything.

Contrary to the claim in the plan, the intended target path is not even consistent with limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.75 degrees (with 67% probability). This finding results from two errors in the calculation of the remaining proportional “budget” of CO2 that may still be put into the atmosphere in Göttingen in order to make the city’s contribution to a corresponding limitation of global warming:

(a) the population used also includes people with secondary residences, whose budgets are consequently counted twice, namely in Göttingen and again at their primary residence (134,824 inhabitants:inside instead of 119,801 with primary residence for 2018);

b) of the average CO2 emissions attributable to each person in Göttingen, only about 70% are emitted in Göttingen itself; the rest is “imported”, for example by producing the steel for a citizens’ car in an energy-intensive way in Salzgitter. Therefore, Göttingen is only allowed to allocate 70% of the remaining CO2 budget per person for its own emissions. For the climate plan, however, the full budget per person is used, so that the city is attributed a budget that is about 43% too high and thus climate goals are only apparently achieved.

With the planned target path, the important goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees would be abandoned for Göttingen. However, all five candidates for the mayoral election in September 2022 had publicly committed to the 1.5 degree target at an event on 17.6.2021 at the Deutsches Theater. How is the future mayor supposed to live up to this commitment on the basis of such a plan?

The extremely successful citizens’ petition by GöttingenZero, with over 9,300 supporters, demanding that the city strives for the target year 2030 for climate neutrality and develops the “Göttingen 2030 Climate Plan” into a concrete action plan and timetable for this goal, however, now opens up the chance that this draft, which is still insufficient, can actually be developed into a meaningful plan with the appropriate political will. With its implementation, Göttingen’s climate protection policy would finally strive to meet the climate targets of the Paris Agreement, to which Germany has committed itself in a binding way under international law by a unanimous resolution of the Bundestag, and thus take into account the recent ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on climate legislation.

Also signed by: Extinction Rebellion Göttingen, Förderverein des Kinderladen Klosterparks, HealthForFuture Göttingen, Naturfreunde Göttingen, ParentsForFuture, SoliBier Göttingen, Ver.di OV Göttingen