Skip to content

German Government Falsifies IPCC Summary On Climate Policy

Daniel Wetzel, Welt am Sonntag

The UN’s climate report has debunked Germany’s green energy subsidies as useless. No one has noticed. That’s because the government has crudely falsified the official summary.

German consumers have subsidised renewable energy to the tune of hundreds of billions of euros. But is hasn’t done anything to protect the climate. That, in essence, is the conclusion stated in the recent UN climate report which was presented to the public in April. Mind you, no one so far has noticed.

One of the reasons for this unawareness is quite simple:  The German government has simply concealed the findings of the UN researchers in the official German summary. Other embarrassing passages from the IPCC document were turned into the opposite.

Action on climate change

But first things first : On April 14, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented its most recent and, to date, most important report on climate change to the public. Although the first two IPCC reports assessed the causes and effects of climate change, the Working Group III report of its Fifth Assessment Report dealt with possible countermeasures.

For policy makers the advice by the IPCC is of utmost importance. Should governments respond to climate change with the introduction of CO2 taxes? Are subsidies for renewable energy advisable or is nuclear power more important? Or is setting up an emission trading system that forces industry and power plant operators to acquire emission allowances for each tonne of carbon dioxide they want to blow into the air more effective in the fight against the greenhouse effect?

These and similar questions were addressed by 235 leading researchers from 58 countries over a  four year period. Hence, when IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri and the Co -Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, Ottmar Edenhofer, presented the results on April 14 in the Auditorium Maximum of the Technical University of Berlin, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) listened carefully.

Clear four sides

The presentation was of course too short for a deeper analysis of the several thousand-page UN report. The “Technical Summary” alone comprises 99 pages of complicated science poetry in English. And even the IPCC’s “Summary for Policymakers” with its 33 pages of English remains a challenge for politicians with very tight times schedules.

Journalists, speakers and environmental NGOs were therefore grateful that the government agencies responsible for climate change made a pretty clear four-page summary of “key messages” of the IPCC report available.

Responsible for the German summary were four high-ranking government agencies: in charge was the Ministry of the Environment; also involved were the German IPCC Coordination Office in Bonn, the Environment Agency in Dessau and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research . The German translation, one would therefore think, is an authoritative source for the interpretation of the IPCC findings. No one suspected that the ministerial summary did not match the original in important ways.

Green power useless – if there is emission trading

In its report the IPCC emphasises the futility of subsidies for renewable energy parallel to an emissions trading system: “The addition of a CO2 reduction policy to a second policy does not necessarily lead to greater CO2 reductions,” it says in a literal translation of the IPCC’s Technical Summary: “In an emissions trading scheme with a sufficiently stringent cap other measures such as subsidising renewable energy have no further influence on total CO2 emissions.”

Thus, the IPCC now confirms what the Scientific Advisory Board of the Federal Ministry of Economics, the Monopolies Commission or the President of the Ifo Institute, Hans -Werner Sinn, have been saying for years: Under the fixed cap of European emissions trading with its precisely calculated amount of pollution rights renewable  energy subsidies only lead to a shift of CO2 emissions, but not to their reduction.

Where a wind farm displaces a German coal-fired power plant, for example, the total CO2 emissions of the plant in question are made available again to the market in the form of emission allowances. The supply is therefore greater and other European power plant operators, accordingly,  can operate cheaper, using this vacant contingent of allowances. The avoided CO2 emissions in Germany are then blown into the air by someone else. For climate policy, the only crucial issue is that the total amount of all distributed CO2 allowances in Europe is never exceeded.

Clear judgement missing in Summary

Yet the IPCC’s clear verdict regarding the climate-political futility of green energy subsidies that run simultaneously to emissions trading does not appear in the German summary. The only comment on this issue reads completely differently: “Emissions trading affects the impact of others measures, unless the number of allowed certificates are adjusted flexibly.”

The difference is obvious: the IPCC has declared CO2 emissions trading to be an effective instrument that makes subsidies for renewable energy unnecessary. The German translation reverses this conclusion and makes emissions trading the culprit that allegedly “constricts the impact of other measures.”

Also questionable is what the IPCC summary – allegedly – says about the design of emissions trading itself: “For the success of emissions trading rights it is necessary to achieve sufficient high prices for emission allowances in order to offer incentives for low-carbon energy sources,” says the Summary by the Federal Government. Therefore, the number of tradable emission rights must be “adapted flexibly”.

Ministry : “First explanation in an intelligible form “

With this account, the German authorities have twisted the IPCC statements into its opposite. Emissions trading is by definition a system in which a number of freely tradeable emission certificates is specified so that they might be subject to free market prices. The German translation has turned this system of fixed rates and flexible prices into a system of flexible quantities in order to enforce the highest possible price for emission rights.

That, however, is contrary to the operating principle of emissions trading. Moreover, the demand for a ‘flexible’ adaptation of tradeable emission vouchers stands in direct contradiction to the IPCC report according to which the maximum number of emission allowances must be “binding”.

The statement that high CO2 prices are “necessary” for the success of emissions trading, as the German translation would have us believe, is nowhere to be found in the original. Basically, and this is precisely the great advantage of emissions trading, the set CO2 targets are achieved even when the market results in low prices for emission allowances. In this way, climate policy can be cheap if you allow the market mechanism to work. The emissions trading system cannot be blamed for the fact that the EU has set a relatively undemanding CO2 reduction targets: the instrument itself is working nevertheless.

Asked to comment, the Environment Ministry pointed to the German IPCC Coordination Office. There, however, the issue is played down. The “core messages” were “not a literal or even official translation of the IPCC report,” said a spokeswoman regarding the document on which the logos of the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Research and the Federal Environment Agency can be seen.  It was “a first presentation of the report in an intelligible form.” The statements had been “derived” from various passages of the UN report . “It should also be noted that the ‘key messages’ have been developed in close collaboration with the authors of the IPCC report, and that elements of the report can be reflected only in highly abbreviated form. ”

IPCC : “That’s not what we wrote “

The IPCC scientists, however, have reacted very surprised when they were confronted by “Welt am Sonntag” with the German translation of their core messages. “That’s not what we wrote in the IPCC report ,” declared Ottmar Edenhofer who as Co-Chair of Working Group III has played a leading role in the formulation of the original IPCC report. “Basically, it is not for an emissions trading system to generate high prices.” “Only the original English version is important,” says Edenhofer, who is also deputy director and chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research ( PIK) . What “the ministries or other agencies do with it is not in my hands.”

Full story (in German)