In the dispute over a reform of the Climate Protection Act, Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) has warned of drastic cuts for drivers – including driving bans on weekends. This emerges from a letter from Wissing to the chairmen of the traffic light factions SPD, Greens and FDP. It was available to the German Press Agency; the “Bild” newspaper first reported on it.

According to Wissing’s argument, driving bans could become necessary if the planned reform is not passed quickly. In order to achieve so-called climate sector goals in transport according to the current law, a significant reduction in the mileage of cars and trucks would be necessary. This would “only be possible through restrictive measures that are difficult to communicate to the population, such as nationwide and indefinite driving bans on Saturdays and Sundays.”

The Greens reacted indignantly. “This claim is simply false,” said deputy group leader Julia Verlinden to the dpa. “A minister should not stir up unfounded concerns among people.”

The letter comes in the middle of negotiations between the traffic light factions about reforming the climate protection law. The cabinet decided on this last June and the first reading in the Bundestag was in September.

This is what the Climate Protection Act is about

The climate protection goals are bindingly regulated in the law. It stipulates that climate-damaging emissions of greenhouse gases will be reduced by 65 percent by 2030 compared to 1990. Permissible annual emission levels have been set for individual sectors such as industry, energy, transport and buildings.

The key point so far is the following mechanism: If sectors fail to meet the targets, the responsible federal government departments have to make adjustments in the form of emergency programs – to ensure compliance with emission levels.

According to the federal government’s draft law, compliance with climate targets should no longer be checked retroactively according to the various sectors – but rather looking into the future, over several years and across sectors. In the future, the federal government as a whole should decide in which sector and with which measures the permissible total amount of CO2 should be achieved by 2030 – but only if the target is missed two years in a row.

Requirements for reducing emissions in individual specific sectors are to be abolished. The FDP in particular is pushing for a reform of the law, which is part of the coalition agreement.

The departments in whose responsibility climate targets are missed still have a “political responsibility,” Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) said in June when presenting the plans. The current law looks good on paper, but in reality it has had too little effect, said Habeck: “No pig has adhered to it.”

Problem child traffic

According to the Federal Environment Agency, 10.1 percent fewer climate-damaging greenhouse gases were emitted in Germany in 2023 than in 2022. There were significant declines in the energy sector; the Federal Environment Agency justified this with a lower use of fossil fuels to generate electricity and heat.

According to the authority, the transport sector in particular needs to make adjustments when it comes to climate protection. He is clearly missing his climate goals again.

The data is assessed by a panel of experts on climate issues. This report will be presented next Monday.

The current climate protection law stipulates: If the emissions data show that the permissible annual emissions amount for a sector is exceeded in a reporting year, the responsible federal ministry will submit an immediate program for the respective sector within three months of the assessment of the emissions data by the expert council. This is intended to ensure compliance with the sector’s annual emissions levels for the following years.

Wissing addresses this in his letter: if the amended Climate Protection Act does not come into force before July 15th, the ministry is obliged under the current law to present an immediate program – then comes the warning of nationwide and indefinite driving bans on the weekend. Not only would citizens suffer as a result, supply chains could also be permanently disrupted, as a short-term shift in transport from road to rail is unrealistic, writes Wissing.

Green Party deputy Verlinden countered that the current law only requires Wissing to “present a climate protection program that contains sensible proposals that lead to more climate protection in the transport sector”. There are many different options, “such as a speed limit” – Wissing and the FDP strictly reject a general speed limit on motorways.

Reform controversial

Environmental associations have long been warning against a weakening of the climate protection law. During the negotiations between the traffic light factions, it is said that it is controversial which responsibilities departments will have in the future if CO2 savings targets are missed – as in the transport sector. There is also a planned solar package attached to the Climate Protection Act, but there is reportedly agreement on this.

Lisa Badum, chairwoman of the Greens in the Climate and Energy Committee, said at the first consultation on the reform of the climate protection law in the Bundestag in September with regard to the transport sector that it should not happen that sectors have to share the burden of other sectors.