Illustration by Ellery Studio

Making the energy transition happen: academies of sciences call for energy policy reboot

14. October 2021

The next four years will be key to Germany’s climate ambitions. During the term of the new parliament, Germany can either choose to drive climate action both nationally and internationally, or it can pass up this chance and stand idly by while the windows of opportunity close one by one. If Germany fails to embark on the right path now, it will be almost impossible to meet the 2030 and 2045 climate targets. But it is not yet too late to act. In the discussion paper “If not now, then when – making the energy transition happen” the academies of sciences set out a strong, concise case for eleven priority action areas that can help to deliver the energy transition.

Today, more than 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by burning fossil fuels. Transforming the energy system is therefore key to meeting our climate targets and preventing the irreversible impacts of climate change. This poses a huge challenge for the new German government. In a discussion paper published by the Academies’ Project “Energy Systems of the Future” (ESYS), the German academies of sciences Leopoldina, acatech and the Union of Academies call for a decisive reboot of energy policy during the term of the current German parliament.  

An interdisciplinary approach to energy and climate policy  

The ESYS experts outline eleven priority action areas where Germany can drive the energy transition both domestically and internationally. They believe that a systemic, interdisciplinary approach that reflects the complexity of the challenge is key to progressive policy action. “Effective and efficient climate action can only be achieved through a holistic energy and climate policy that leaves room for innovative solutions and takes different social realities into account,” explains Charman of the ESYS Board of Directors, Dirk Uwe Sauer (RWTH Aachen University).  

According to Sauer, “We already have technological solutions for many of the challenges. But we aren’t making the most of them. To do this, we need to find socially acceptable ways of implementing these technologies. Take the expansion of renewables, for example. If we are to meet our climate targets, we will need to increase renewable capacity to between four and six times its current level. This will call for new business models and infrastructure, more opportunities for public participation, and more digitalisation. Bold cooperation between government, industry and civil society will be essential to making this happen.”  

In the paper, the experts also describe how hydrogen and bioenergy will play a key role in our future energy supply, and identify the main areas where they should be used. They also discuss how to deal with unavoidable emissions, and set out the key steps for achieving climate-neutral industry. The paper puts these fields of action into perspective and outlines a series of forward-looking measures for tackling the relevant challenges.

Facilitating the market and mitigating the social burdens  

Decisions should not be based solely on short-term profitability: “The key question should be whether a measure helps to meet the climate targets cost-effectively,” explains Vice Chair of the ESYS Board of Directors, Karen Pittel (ifo Institute, Center for Energy, Climate and Resources). “We need a smart instrument mix that enables the development of the market, encourages investment and mitigates the social burdens. To achieve this mix, we must take a critical look at the taxes, duties and surcharges that make up the current system. The discussion paper outlines the fundamental reforms that are required.”

The experts stress the importance of looking beyond Germany’s national borders – after all, Germany’s electricity supply is closely connected to that of the European Union. A progressive energy and climate policy can facilitate change by addressing these interconnections. At the same time, it is important to avoid undermining German industry by displacing carbon dioxide emissions to countries with less stringent emission reduction targets. Every single tonne of emissions matters, regardless of where it is emitted. 


  • Anja Lapac
  • Communications Officer
  • Energy Systems of the Future