Climate change and energy law

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Climate change and energy law helps to limit climate change to a manageable level.
Source: kgdad /

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing mankind. Climate change and energy law is a key instrument for coping with this challenge. It aims to balance climate change mitigation with a reliable and needs-oriented system of energy supply. Relevant legislation is reflected in law at international and EU level, and at German federal and state (Land) level.

Table of Contents


International law

In 1992 the international community adopted the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty whose objective is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human impact) interference with the climate system. In addition, the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted at the third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Kyoto in 1997, laid down the first binding caps and reduction commitments concerning greenhouse gas emissions for industrialised countries. The Paris Agreement, adopted at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Paris in 2015, defines the goal for all the countries to limit the rise in global temperature to less than 2°C and to undertake further measures to contain the rise to less than 1.5°C (Article 2). The implementation strategy which the treaty advocates focuses on intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which the countries proposed at the conference. These contributions are to be updated every five years to include even more challenging targets. Germany and the EU have ratified the UNFCCC and all the subsequent treaties. Hence they are an integral part of national legislation.


EU and national law

At EU level, the long-term goals of climate change and energy policy are specified and enshrined in the EU 2020 climate and energy framework and EU 2030 climate and energy framework. At national level, the long-term climate change goals (reduction pathways for GHG emissions, reduction of energy consumption and paths of expansion for renewable sources of energy) are enshrined in the German Government Energy Concept of september 2010, the Climate action programme of december 2014 and in the Climate Action Plan 2050.

Climate and energy policy in Europe and Germany applies a broad mix of planning, regulatory, economic and informational instruments to achieve these goals. National energy and climate change legislation (see links at page bottom) includes the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Act, Combined Heat and Power Act, Renewable Energies Act, Renewable Energies Heat Act and the Energy Industry Act. Many of these national instruments are determined to a large extent by European law (e.g. trade in greenhouse gas emission allowances, energy labelling of consumer goods). Other EU regulations set minimum standards (energy taxation, for example) or limitations on how national instruments are designed (e.g. the admissibility of subsidies to promote renewables) or require the Member States to develop their own activities to reach specific goals or choose from an established catalogue (e.g. increasing energy efficiency). The EU has achieved a liberalisation of the electricity markets and is aiming to create a European internal energy market in the framework of a comprehensive energy union. Germany complements this European framework with national laws, statutory instruments, administrative provisions, plans and action programmes. The country’s policy-makers enjoy considerable scope for decision-making, for example with regard to the pace at which renewable energies can be developed beyond EU guidelines, nuclear energy phase-out, expansion of the power grid, determination of energy tax, promotion of energy savings and much more.

Because legislative authority is mainly at federal level, the federal states (Länder) have little freedom of action of their own, but they nevertheless play an active role in climate change law. The climate protection acts adopted in several of the federal states (Länder) requires that climate change mitigation programmes for the state and municipalities be drawn up and call for commitment to a zero carbon footprint for the federal states (Länder) administrations. A climate protection act at federal level could make climate policy goals binding as well as the regulations requiring complete, consistent and transparent reporting. Such action is necessary to achieve climate neutrality in Germany by 2050.

The most prominent legal acts related to climate change and energy law are (see links at bottom of page):

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Act and the Emissions Trading Ordinance 2020 on the basis of the EU Emissions Trading Directive
  • Renewable Energy Sources Act, the Renewable Energies Heat Act, the Biomass Ordinance etc. on the basis of the EU Renewable Energy Directive
  • Energy Conservation Act, the Energy Conservation Ordinance, and the national Energy Efficiency Action Plan on the basis of the Energy Efficiency Directive and the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive
  • Act on Energy Consumption Labelling on the basis of the EU Energy Labelling Framework Directive
  • Energy Tax Act and subsidiary legislation (e.g. Federal Decree on Network Access Fees) based on the EU Electricity single market Directive
  • Electricity Tax Act and the Energy Tax Act, based on the EU Energy Products Directive and EU guidelines on state aid for environmental protection and energy 2014-2020

German Environment Agency’s activities

In accordance with the UBA Errichtungsgesetz, [Act establishing the Federal Environment Agency], UBA carries out its own climate change and energy law research, commissions and monitors research projects and provides commentary and evaluation of outside research activities. It advises the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) on legal matters as required. Its own research activities include the legal analysis of policy proposal, participation in scientific dialogue and attendance at specialist conferences and the presentation of research results. Also, the Agency issues scientific publications. An involvement in advisory committees, commissions and other bodies serves the exchange of information with researchers and practitioners. Finally, UBA edits the results of internal and external research for use by policy-makers and for the purpose of providing information to the general public.


Recent research projects in climate change and energy law

Sozialverträgliche Gestaltung von Klimaschutz und Energiewende in Haushalten mit geringem Einkommen (Flyer, German) [Socially sustainable climate action and transformation of energy supply in low-income households]

Evaluierung des gestuften Planungs- und Genehmigungsverfahrens Stromnetzausbau (Flyer, German) [Evaluation of the tiered planning and authorisation procedure for power grid expansion]

Integration Erneuerbarer Energien durch Sektorkopplung Teilvorhaben 1: Effiziente Ausgestaltung der Sektorkopplung [Integrating renewable energies through sector coupling, sub-project 1: efficient fine-tuning of sector coupling]

Klimaschutz im Stromsektor 2030 - Vergleich von Instrumenten zur Erreichung des Sektorziels (Report, German) [Climate action in the electricity sector 2030 - comparison of instruments to achieve the sectoral target]

Energy-Related Qualification of Building and Planning Professionals Part 1: Legal Barriers to Climate Protection in Planning and Construction of Buildings (summary) (Report, German)

Das Klimaschutzrecht des Bundes – Analyse und Vorschläge zu seiner Weiterentwicklung (Report, German) [German federal climate change law - analysis and proposals for its advancement]

Concepts for the removal of legal barriers to climate protection in Germany's buildings sector (Report, German)

Rechtskonzepte zur Beseitigung des Staus energetischer Sanierungen im Gebäudebestand (Report, German) [Legal concepts to eliminate the bottleneck in energy-saving modernisations for existing buildings: summary]

Umweltschutz im Planungsrecht: Die Verankerung des Klimaschutzes und des Schutzes der biologischen Vielfalt im raumbezogenen Planungsrecht (Report, German) [Environmental protection in planning law: establishing climate action and protection of biodiversity in spatial planning law]

legal provisions

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 international climate protection  energy law  Climate Protection Law