RESCUE shows that until 2050 greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 95 to 97 percent (in comparison to 1990). Through the use of sustainable agriculture and forestry practices, even net-zero emissions can be reached. At the same time, primary raw materials consumption can be reduced by 56 to 80 percent. However, the transformation also results in additional demands for single raw materials.
The RESCUE-study highlights that GHG-neutrality in Germany is possible through a combination of ambitious actions, while at the same time reducing overall primary raw materials consumption. The Green-scenarios show different pathways for this.
Results highlight that ambitious efforts similar to the story line of the GreenSupreme scenario, are necessary in order to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and to achieve a globally equitable use of raw materials.
In order to successfully manage the transition, the following three basis strategies for climate protection and sustainable resource use should be followed in a balanced fashion:
Substitution: Replacing GHG- or resource-intensive technologies and products with lower impact alternatives.
Avoidance: Reducing the demand for GHG- and resource-intensive products and activities via gains in efficiency, sufficiency, and increased materials circularity. More specifically this includes:
Energy- and material efficiency measures
Sustainable life-styles (sufficiency)
Increasing materials circularity and, by doing so, reducing the demand for primary raw materials
Natural carbon sinks: The extraction of already emitted CO2 from the atmosphere through natural carbon sinks (carbon dioxide removal CDR) such as forests in order to mitigate GHG-emissions.
2030 – On the Path towards Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Neutrality
The Green scenarios focus on 2050 and highlight transformation paths to GHG-neutrality across all emission source groups. Despite missing individual sectoral targets of the Federal Government's climate protection plan, the overall reduction target by 2030 is reached in all Green scenarios. Only the GreenLate scenario, with a reduction of 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990, remains within the target range of the Federal Government's climate protection plan. The other scenarios go well beyond this. GreenEe1 achieves 60 percent and GreenEe2, GreenMe and GreenLife are found at 61 to 63 percent GHG reductions compared to 1990 levels. GreenSupreme displays a 69 percent reduction already in 2030. The reductions by 2030 are dominated by the initiated (and in GreenSupreme already implemented) phase-out of coal use for electricity production. Overall, it becomes evident that an increased level of GHG emissions reduction compared with the targets set by the German government in 2030 can still be reached but this requires significant efforts.
2050 – Greenhouse Gas Neutrality
By 2050, the Green scenarios achieve reductions within the range of 95 percent in GreenLate to 97 percent in GreenSupreme. If sustainable agriculture and forestry are taken into account, net zero emissions can be achieved in Germany. Energy-related GHG-emissions are completely avoided. The entire energy supply, i.e. electricity, fuel, and feedstocks, is based on renewable energies. Despite a healthier diet with less meat and a reduction in the number of livestock in Germany, 60 to 67 percent of the remaining GHG-emissions are caused by agriculture. According to current knowledge, not all feedstock-related GHG-emissions can be avoided in industry either. In 2050, between 27 percent (GreenSupreme) and 37 percent (GreenLate) of GHG-emissions still originate from industry. The main sources are the cement, lime, and glass industries. However, these GHG-emissions are offset by natural sinks (sustainable agriculture and forestry), so that net zero emissions can be achieved, especially in GreenLife and GreenSupreme.
Contribution to global climate policy challenges
All Green scenarios achieve GHG-neutrality or come very close to it. But the way to achieve this differs (Figure 1). The effects of delayed action become obvious with GreenLate, because this transformation pathway results in about 37 percent more GHG-emissions than GreenSupreme. All other scenarios result in GHG-emissions before 2040 similar to cumulative emissions of GreenSupreme in the whole time window until 2050. Small increases in the short-term GHG-reduction targets (2030) in Germany will therefore have insufficient effects towards meeting the national contributions to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. Instead, timely and more ambitious action is needed.
The ambitious assumptions in GreenEe1, GreenEe2, GreenMe, and GreenLife do not meet the requirements of an average global 1.5 °C pathway according to IPCC. GreenLate, which represents also the goals of the German Federal Government, is even less compatible with the international obligations towards climate protection. The GreenSupreme scenario comes closest to the international obligations. In order to come as close as possible to a globally appropriate contribution from Germany, ambitious international cooperation, financing and implementation of climate protection measures outside Germany are necessary in addition to the comprehensive and rapid implementation of national climate protection measures - as described in GreenSupreme.
The phase-out of fossil energy carriers benefits both climate protection and sustainable resource use
In this study, the material flows into the German economy (i.e., domestic extraction, imports, and secondary material inputs) and exports are determined using the headline indicator RMC (Raw Material Consumption) which represents the primary raw material use for domestic consumption and investments. The RMC is divided into the following raw material categories: biomass, metal ores, non-metallic minerals, and fossil energy materials/carriers. The use of raw materials for internationally traded goods is expressed in raw material equivalents (RME) in order to equally assess raw materials extraction domestically and abroad. RME represents the weight of raw materials used for the manufacture of goods including all raw materials used in the production of these goods both at home and abroad. In addition, a number of single raw materials (e.g., metals) are assessed in this project.
In all Green scenarios, the greatest reduction in raw material requirements is associated with the phase-out of fossil fuels (Figure 2). In GreenLate, this leads to a 56 percent reduction in the RMC by 2050 compared to 2010. In the two GreenEe scenarios, with a focus on energy efficiency and supplemented by other aspects of sustainable lifestyles, a reduction of around 61 to 62 percent by 2050 is observed. Additional measures to increase material efficiency (GreenMe) have the potential to reduce material consumption by a total of 68 percent. Further lifestyle changes, such as, e.g., space-efficient construction or the increased use of durable and repairable products, results in a 63 percent reduction in GreenLife compared to 2010. The combination of these measured combined with a faster implementation in GreenSupreme allows for a reduction of 70 percent in RMC by 2050.
However, the described transformation pathways can also lead to the increased demand for individual raw materials (e.g., metals such as lithium and cobalt) (see the detailed research reports). Individual raw material could only partly be considered in this research project and are part of current research work by the German Environment Agency.
In conclusion, the results of the RESCUE study highlight that ambitious efforts both at national and international level, as well as enhanced international cooperation similar to the story line of the GreenSupreme scenario, are necessary in order to limit global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and to achieve a globally equitable use of raw materials. Given current trends, this may appear to be a daunting task. Nevertheless, the study also shows that achieving GHG-neutrality and a sustainable level of raw materials use are still possible. However, for making this vision a reality, action must be taken now and every contribution (both from a production and consumption standpoint) must be seriously considered and utilized.
The impact of climate change will be felt more strongly in the future – and in Germany too. This is the conclusion reached in what is called the vulnerability analysis, a comprehensive study on Germany's vulnerability to climate change.