Germany moves ahead with green heating bill under fire from left and right

Draft law to phase out gas boilers blamed for rise of far-right Alternative for Germany party

Ministers say a switch to clean heating is needed to make Germany carbon-neutral by 2045. Bloomberg
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Germany’s climate plans, which have been blamed for a far-right resurgence in the polls, came under renewed assault on Thursday as a bill to ditch gas boilers was put before MPs.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has kicked up a storm over a Green party-led drive for domestic heat pumps that it has branded a “new vaccine mandate”.

Environmental groups are also unhappy with a compromise between parties in Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition that is set to delay some measures until 2028 or later.

Under fire from left and right, ministers on Thursday admitted the government “would be blind” to ignore the bitter debate over the bill.

But they insisted the changes were needed urgently to help ensure Germany is carbon-neutral by 2045, given heaters installed now will run decades.

“For the building sector, 2045 is virtually the day after tomorrow,” said Germany’s Housing Minister Klara Geywitz.

Mr Scholz’s coalition took power in 2021 promising to accelerate the switch to clean energy after what it has described as years of inertia under Angela Merkel’s government.

But its plans have been jolted by the energy crisis unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as bickering between the Social Democrats, Greens and liberals in Mr Scholz’s government.

As voters turn on the coalition, the AfD's popularity has surged by as much as 20 per cent in the polls, a record for a far-right party since 1945 – unnerving mainstream parties in Germany.

“If you want to promote frustration with politics, this is the way to behave,” Jens Spahn, a senior figure from the centre-right Christian Democrats, told the government during Thursday’s debate.

“In the middle of all these crises, you are arguing, arguing and arguing."

The bill is being introduced before the summer break despite changes to the text pending.

It had aimed to largely put a stop to the construction of new gas boilers from next year, with households encouraged to turn to electric-powered heat pumps or connect to local heating grids.

About 80 per cent of Germany’s heating demand is met by burning fossil fuels, using up about two fifths of the country’s annual gas supplies, according to documents handed to MPs.

But the coalition horse-trading has opened the door for new gas boilers to be installed and remain in use as late as 2045, as long as they can one day be converted to burn hydrogen.

Linking up with district heating can wait until 2028 when local authorities must set out plans to make it available. There are also exceptions for people aged 80 and older.

Criticising the deal, Barbara Metz of Environmental Action Germany described hydrogen-ready boilers as “a fairy tale” and said the revised law was “not a milestone, but a low point for the climate policies of this government”.

“Boilers can still be run with fossil gas until 2045 as long as they have a sticker saying ‘H2 Ready’,” she said.

Ministers separately plan to scrap sector-by-sector emissions targets in favour of a nationwide measurement – further angering activists.

The government admits it will have an “emissions gap” of about 200 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030, even if all its current measures such as expanding wind and solar energy prove effective.

“We have no more time to lose for climate action but the government seems to be giving up” on its 2030 goals, said Stefanie Langkamp of the German Climate Alliance.

Germany this week hosted talks in Bonn preparing the ground for Cop28 in the UAE, which begins in November and will feature the world measuring its progress towards limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Scientists say deep emissions cuts are needed by 2030 to keep that goal within reach.

Updated: June 15, 2023, 11:14 AM