The future has already begun

The ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court (BVerfG) in April on the German Federal Climate Protection Act of 2019 clearly shows that the measures taken so far by the German government against climate change are not sufficient to protect the civil rights of young and future generations. Concrete plans for the years after 2030 must now be presented by the end of 2022 in order to ensure a fair distribution of the burden between the generations. This will require, above all, a significant increase in the expansion of renewable energies. However, the most recently presented plans are not sufficient for this.

Energy is the backbone of our society. Without it, (almost) nothing works today. The problem is that almost 85% of German greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors are caused by energy production (UBA, 2020). In order to effectively counteract climate change, the form of energy generation in particular must be changed. Instead of burning large quantities of coal, oil and gas, renewable energy sources - especially photovoltaics (PV) and wind power - must be increasingly expanded and used. Currently, the share of renewable energies in primary energy consumption in Germany is just 17% (UBA, 2021a). Fossil fuels, however, still account for a combined share of 77%. Without a fundamental change in energy supply, Germany will neither be able to achieve its original climate goal - far-reaching greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 at the latest (BMU, 2016) - nor its new climate goal - climate neutrality by 2045 - adopted in the light of the BVerfG ruling (BVerfG, 2021) (BMU, 2021).

According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (Fraunhofer ISE), in order to actually achieve climate neutrality by the middle of the century, "[t]he installed capacity for wind turbines and photovoltaics in total [...] would have to be between just under 500 GWel and more than 750 GWel in 2050" (Fraunhofer ISE, 2020). At last count, however, only around 116 GW of renewable capacity had been installed (PV and onshore wind around 54 GW each, offshore wind around 8 GW) (UBA, 2021b). To close the existing gap, at least 15 GW of renewable energy would have to be added annually by 2050. However, in view of the low expansion rates of recent years - since 2017, an average of only around 3.9 GW of PV, 1.4 GW of onshore wind and 0.8 GW of offshore wind have been expanded per year (BMWi, 2021) - this order of magnitude hardly seems realistic.

Now, however, the recent ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court makes it clear that the measures taken so far are not sufficient to guarantee the civil rights of young and future generations (BVerfG, 2021). In other words: Climate neutrality 2050 is not constitutional. On closer inspection, however, the same applies to climate neutrality in 2045 or even 2040, because even with these targets, Germany will fall well short of its fair contribution to meeting the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is binding under international law (Wuppertal Institute, 2020; Gerhards et al., 2021; Climate Action Tracker, 2021). This means, however, that the annual expansion rates for renewable energies would have to be even higher than calculated by Fraunhofer ISE.

However, the importance of meeting the 1.5°C target was highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018. The special report 1.5 °C global warming compares the impacts of climate change in a 2 °C warmer world with those in a 1.5 °C warmer world (IPCC, 2018). The result is clear and shows that we should do everything possible to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. For not only does every tenth of a degree by which the average global temperature continues to rise increase the probability of ever more frequent and ever more intense weather extremes - the effects of which we are already feeling very dramatically in Germany (UBA, 2021c) - but it also increases the probability of irreversible changes to our environment through so-called tipping points of the climate system. The particular danger of crossing these tipping points is that each one of them further intensifies climate change and thus also poses a serious threat to the existence of humankind (Steffen et al., 2018; Lenton et al., 2019).To date, the average global temperature has already increased by 1.2 °C compared to the pre-industrial period (WMO, 2021), so the remaining scope for the further emission of greenhouse gases has become very small.

In order for Germany to make its fair contribution to compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement, the share of renewable energies in electricity generation would have to be at least 90% by 2030 (Gerhards et al., 2021; Climate ActionTracker, 2021). Technologically, this is possible (Traber et al., 2021), but so far the political will to implement it is lacking. For example, the expansion of wind power and PV, the most important renewable energies, has been systematically prevented in Germany over the last 10 years (Goeßmann, 2021; Götze & Joeres, 2020), despite the fact that the costs for renewable electricity have fallen continuously in recent years and are now (partly) cheaper than those for fossil or nuclear energy (Fraunhofer ISE, 2018). This is especially true if one also takes into account the costs of environmental damage resulting from conventional energy production, which are not currently reflected in the heavily subsidised prices (UBA, 2019).

In order to successfully implement the Energiewende by 2030, wind power and PV will have to be expanded much more than before. With regard to PV, this will also require ground-mounted systems, as the expansion of roof areas alone is not sufficient for the required capacities (Traber et al., 2021; Gerhards et al., 2021).However, the construction of ground-mounted PV systems has recently met with criticism in many quarters, as they allegedly disfigure the landscape, endanger biodiversity and use areas that would otherwise be used for growing food (Zinke, 2021). Particularly critical are those plants that are built outside of the EEG subsidy and are therefore not subject to the power limit of 10 megawatts. Accordingly, some of these plants can and are planned to be very large, as was recently the case in Brandenburg, where various plants were applied for, each of which is to cover around 200 ha (Russew, 2021).

How substantial the criticism voiced and the arguments put forward against ground-mounted PV systems really are against the backdrop of climate change and the resulting climate crisis will be briefly discussed below.

Landscape aesthetics

Whether or not large-scale ground-mounted PV systems actually disturb the aesthetics of the landscape varies greatly with each location and is ultimately a question of subjective taste. However, as the saying goes, it is difficult to argue about this point, so we will not go into it any further here. It should only be mentioned that, in case of doubt, a comparatively less beautiful sight is preferable to a further worsening of the climate crisis for several reasons - above all our own well-being.

Much more crucial, however, are the other two arguments: the loss of biodiversity and of agricultural land for food production. Both arguments, if true, would be of great importance, since the decline in biodiversity - also in Germany - is already dramatic (IPBES, 2019; von der Decken, 2019) and since the availability of food should be guaranteed in principle. A detailed analysis of these two arguments, however, quickly shows that neither of them is actually true and can be used against PV ground-mounted systems.


Depending on the previous use of the area in question, its initial ecological condition and the construction, the construction of an open-space PV system does not have a negative impact on biodiversity, but can even lead to its improvement (Demuth & Maack, 2019; BNE, 2019). This is especially true for previously intensively used arable land (Demuth & Maack, 2019; Henhofer, 2021), which is often at the centre of the discussion about open-space PV systems. For small mammals, such as the field hamster, which is threatened with extinction in Germany, but also for insects, birds and various plant species, new habitats are created with extensive maintenance of the areas and sufficient distance between the individual module rows, which lead to an increase in biodiversity (Demuth & Maack, 2019; BNE, 2019). In addition to generating renewable electricity that does not harm the climate, an open-space PV system also promotes biodiversity in many cases.

On ecological areas that are already very diverse, however, the construction of an open-space PV system should be avoided. As will be seen in a moment, this is not a fundamental difficulty given the areas available in Germany and their previous use.


The Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food (BLE) clearly states that the supply of food in Germany is guaranteed (BLE, 2021). Meat, milk, sugar and potatoes are produced by German farmers in quantities that are significantly higher than the demand of the population. Fruit, vegetables, eggs and honey are already dependent on imports, as is wheat, although the degree of self-sufficiency is 91%. Furthermore, since only 22% of the agriculturally available land in Germany is used for growing food - compared to 60% for animal feed - (FNR, 2021), it is not possible to speak of an impending shortage of food as a result of the construction of ground-mounted PV systems. It can be seen that the arguments put forward against the construction of even larger ground-mounted PV systems are overwhelmingly not valid and are not convincing, especially against the background of the climate crisis and its already noticeable effects - on the lives of people in Germany. Climate change is no longer an abstract danger whose effects will only be felt in many years' time. We can no longer put off our responsibility, but must finally act now. The future has already begun and we are part of it. But in order to be able to continue to live our lives in a safe framework in this future, decisive action is indispensable.

Patrick Hohlwegler, Energy and Climate Policy Officer, ansvar 2030 & The Climate Task Force

Picture: Appolinary Kalashnikova / unsplash

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