Germany's Refugee Crisis Strains Ambition to Cut Pollution

  • Environment Ministry sees pressure on CO2-reduction targets
  • Housing minister calls for 3.9 billion euros for refugee homes

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said Germany’s decision to admit more than 1.1 million refugees within the last year is likely to strain the government’s target to cut greenhouse gas pollution.

The minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet who also oversees housing asked for 3.9 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in additional spending though 2020 to build homes for asylum seekers. Her ministry is studying the impact of rising energy demand from an increased population on Germany’s pledges to cut fossil-fuel emissions.

“Rising numbers of refugees means pressure on housing, means rising demand for energy, means pressure on CO2 targets,” Franzjosef Schafhausen, the director-general for climate policy in Hendricks’s ministry, said in an interview in Berlin. “Nobody knows for sure what the final tally of refugees will be.”

The comments add to friction within Merkel’s government over how to cope with refugees who surged into Germany because of political conflict from Syria to north and east Africa. Hendricks oversees climate policy and represented Germany at the United Nations global warming talks in Paris, where 195 countries agreed to take steps to limit climate change.

Merkel has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels. Wind and solar energy have been the main drivers of those reductions, helping Germany replace nuclear- and coal-fired power plants and reduce CO2 by about 28 percent by 2014. The government is staking steps to scale back the rate of clean energy expansion because of bottlenecks in adapting the grid to more variable power flows.

Clean power now accounts for 33 percent of all electricity consumed in Germany, helping the nation reduce its annual emissions even though energy demand rose 1.3 percent, according to AG Energiebilanzen e.V., a research group the government consults.

Cooler weather and economic growth of 1.8 percent helped boost emissions, and the number of asylum seekers lodged in Germany also expanded growth, the group said. There is no official forecast for how many asylum seekers will settle in Germany this year.

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