How civil society can increase Germany’s global climate efforts

German climate policy should make Germany climate neutral. But it has much greater potential than thinking of decarbonization only within the country’s borders: The German government has the responsibility to gear its climate policy towards making the greatest possible contribution to global decarbonization. This perspective has been neglected by many climate policy and civil society actors to date.

In our research project to prioritize over 100 climate policy levers, we investigated which impact levers of German climate policy can contribute most to global decarbonization and how civil society organizations can make the implementation of these policy levers more likely. Here we would like to give you an insight into the results of our climate policy prioritization as an example. If you are interested in the full results, please feel free to contact us (see below).

Turning around the narrative on fossil fuel subsidies

Shirokazan CC BY 2.0

Removing fossil fuel subsidies in Germany is one of the biggest levers of German climate policy. Eliminating the 10 most climate-damaging national subsidies alone would save almost 100 million tons of CO₂e per year, or more than one-tenth of Germany’s total emissions.

Removing fossil fuel subsidies globally can reduce annual emissions by 6-8%, or about 3-4 GT CO₂e per year. The savings can be invested by countries in the transformation to climate neutrality, thereby reducing further emissions. If Germany takes the initiative internationally to implement subsidy removal, it can achieve enormous leverage.

In our interviews on this policy lever, scientific experts emphasize that Germany’s inaction in this area has so far had a negative role model effect. This may lead other countries to behave similarly and to further slow down the phase-out of fossil fuels.

The current coalition agreement provides for the abolition of fossil subsidies. In the energy crisis, however, fossil energy is again being subsidized more heavily. However, the subsidies often fail to achieve the goal of relieving low-income households and providing long-term energy security. In our interviews, experts say that we need to fundamentally change the narrative of the public debate. Starting points for this are the current waste of taxpayers’ money through fossil subsidies and progressive social effects of dismantling individual subsidies. The Forum Ökologisch-Soziale Markwirtschaft (FÖS) and Greenpeace provide helpful analyses in this and this study.

Bilateral climate partnerships are an opportunity for huge global emissions reductions

Woman with solar panel in Nepal

Germany’s climate partnerships with countries in the Global South are among the most effective instruments of German climate policy. This enables Germany to contribute to annual global emissions reductions that are significantly higher than Germany’s annual emissions. 

In our interviews, scientific experts highlight several effective elements: The agreements can make technologies and financial resources available for renewable energies, agree on the commitment not to exploit fossil resources, and create export opportunities for renewably-produced hydrogen. In this way, Germany’s climate partnerships can massively support the expansion of renewable energies in partner countries and contribute to the decarbonization of entire national energy systems.

The experts believe that Germany, with its existing and planned climate partnerships, has a leading role to play. However, the German government does not currently rule out supporting fossil fuel projects in climate partnerships, and it is not certain that the partnerships will be provided with enough money to achieve their goals. Climate partnerships have enormous potential for global emission reductions, and at the same time carry the risk of reproducing colonial power relations.

Civil society actors can work to ensure that the agreements actually reduce emissions, strengthen climate finance, do not promote fossil fuels, and dismantle colonial structures.

Strengthening civil society support for effective and socially just EU emissions trading

Markus Tacker CC BY-ND 2.0

According to scientists, the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is the guiding instrument for German and European climate neutrality. The effective and socially just further development of emissions trading, for example through higher but socially cushioned CO₂ prices in car traffic, is one of the biggest levers of German climate policy.

If the German government commits to this, it can contribute to emission reductions that are significantly higher than Germany’s annual emissions. It is crucial to limit the quantity of emissions certificates in the trading systems for all sectors to a level that is compatible with the 1.5 degree target. Internationally, the EU can lobby for other countries to introduce CO₂ pricing as well.

The EU has just reformed the existing ETS for the energy and industrial sectors and introduced an ETS2 for the buildings and transport sectors. Therefore, the next window of opportunity for further development is probably in four to five years. Experts we interviewed expect resistance from EU member states as well as from consumers against the higher energy prices resulting from the instrument, especially in the transport and building sector. Therefore, it is important that civil society actors campaign for support for an effective emissions trading system until the next reform and advocate for a socially just design.

Why a climate policy prioritization?

Many people would like to limit climate change and avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis. But we all have limited time, human and financial resources to devote to this. That is why it is so important that we ask ourselves how we can most effectively contribute to climate protection and the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions. Even more effective than minimizing our own footprint is advocating for climate policy change.

Therefore, in our research project, we asked ourselves which impact levers of German climate policy would make the greatest contribution to reducing and avoiding global greenhouse gas emissions (CO₂ equivalents). By a policy lever, we mean a bundle of policy measures that, taken together, can have a greater leverage effect, i.e., a greater potential to reduce emissions. In this project, we assessed the impact potential of over 100 climate policy levers, evaluated over 150 scientific sources, interviewed over 30 experts from the scientific and policy communities, and conducted several assessment workshops. The results of this research project form a basis for the orientation of our offerings. 

Feel free to contact us at to learn more about our prioritization of climate policy levers, or if your organization is committed to these policy levers and interested in our offerings.