Germany could reach climate neutrality in 2045 – five years earlier than targeted – if it greatly accelerates the build-up of renewables and the ramp-up of green hydrogen, and exits coal earlier, a joint report by three think-tanks found.

As a result, Europe’s largest economy would emit one billion tons of CO2 less, the report Climate neutral Germany 2045 by Agora Energiewende, Agora Verkehrswende and the Climate Neutrality Foundation said (link to the report in German here).

“Climate neutrality is a race against time. Ever more frequent extreme weather situations have evolved from a threatening forecast to a depressing reality,” said Climate Neutrality Foundation director Rainer Baake, a former state secretary in the Merkel government.

“The decisive change of course in the United States makes the growing dynamic in climate ambition clear,” he said, adding that Germany could also be faster, but needs the political willingness for that.

Climate policy is likely to become one of the main issues in the campaign for general elections in Germany in September. The Green Party, of which Baake is also a member, for the first time has put up a candidate for the chancellorship, and is in a race with Angela Merkel’s conservatives for the first place.

The elections will be a decisive crossroads for climate protection and reaching climate neutrality five years earlier could also be an economic success story for Germany as the country could become a leading supplier of climate protection technology, the authors of the report stressed.

The report assumes that the next government will raise its emission reduction target for 2030 to 65% (from 55% that are currently envisaged), which is likely given steeper emission cut goals for the EU as a whole.

Germany’s onshore wind generation capacity according to the report would need to reach 145GW by 2045, compared to a current 55GW, while offshore wind would have to grow almost ten-fold to 70GW, from 7.7GW now.

The report sees the greatest potential in solar, assuming a cumulated capacity of 385GW by 2045, up from 54GW currently installed.

“Climate neutrality 2045 means a renewable energies market of about 30GW per year in Germany alone, a building renovation rate of 1.75% a year and a rapid ramp-up of hydrogen technology,” said Agora Energiewende director Patrick Graichen.

“Yes, that is ambitious. But doable. And above all, it is good for Germany as a location [for companies] and for the climate.”

The report also assumes that hydrogen, and in part biomass, will make industry largely climate neutral by 2040, and that combustion engine cars will be banned as of 2032. In agriculture, the think-tanks expect a rising demand to continue for meat and milk substitutes.

The report also expects Germany to exit coal and lignite already in 2030, instead of in 2035-38 as Berlin currently targets.