Germany Can Achieve Climate-Neutral Transport at No Additional Cost, New Study Finds

A new study by the Berlin-based think tank Agora Verkehrswende has found that Germany can achieve climate-neutral transport by 2045 without additional costs or mobility losses, but only if the government acts without delay. The study estimates that if robust policy action is delayed to 2030, achieving the same level of emissions savings will entail additional costs of some 500 billion euros (+5 per cent).

The study’s reference scenario presumes the continuation of existing policy up to 2045. In this scenario, Germany fails to meet its climate targets in transport and produces 590 million tonnes of additional CO2 emissions. However, if the government acts rapidly and accelerates climate protection in the transport sector, the study found that the overall costs remain the same and are even 60 billion euros less expensive than the reference scenario.

“The results of our study are clear. Economic considerations alone argue in favour of immediate action to accelerate climate protection in the transport sector,” said Wiebke Zimmer, Deputy Director of Agora Verkehrswende. “Political hesitation has a price – and this price is measured either in money or emissions. Yet the issue is not merely an economic one. The fate of the biosphere is at stake, and we have an obligation to act under the German constitution and international law.”

The study estimates the economic costs and investment requirements of transforming the transport sector in Germany up to 2045 and considers three scenarios. The target scenarios presume the replacement of internal combustion engines with electric vehicles, as well as a modal shift from road to rail and from private cars to buses, trains, shared mobility, bicycles, and walking. Both target scenarios require higher upfront investments, particularly for the expansion of public transport and electric vehicle adoption. However, in the rapid action scenario, annual expenditure falls below that of the reference scenario already in the early 2030s due to greater energy efficiency and a modal shift.

Carl-Friedrich Elmer, Senior Associate for Transport Economics at Agora Verkehrswende, said, “A robust commitment to climate protection will pay off in the long term, but it necessitates a solid financing strategy. The political will of the German government is the make-or-break factor when it comes to higher upfront investment. We need immediate and sufficiently large public outlays for climate protection while also ensuring the reliable allocation of funding over the long term.”

The study also found that a significant modal shift is necessary to achieve climate-neutral transport. While motorised private transport remains very high in the reference scenario, it falls to below 60% by 2045 in the target scenarios, offset by a corresponding rise in bus and train journeys. The study did not consider the possible adoption of autonomous buses and trams, but such technological innovation could save additional costs in the future.

The study takes all direct transport system costs into account, including capital investment costs and operating expenses. While it does not quantify the additional anticipated economic benefits of the target scenarios, such as reductions in air and noise pollution, these benefits would likely make the target scenarios perform even better.

In conclusion, the Agora Verkehrswende study shows that Germany can achieve climate-neutral transport at no additional cost, but only if the government acts rapidly and robustly to transform the transport sector. The study calls on policymakers to allocate sufficient public financing while incentivising private-sector investment to make the transformation a reality.