BERLIN (AP) — Carbon dioxide emissions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, dropped to their lowest level in seven decades as the use of coal declined unexpectedly sharply in 2023 and economic pressures weighed down production by energy-intensive industry, according to a study released Thursday.

Germany aims to cut its emissions to net zero by 2045 and is working to ramp up the use of solar and wind power and other renewable sources.

The Agora Energiewende think tank said its preliminary calculations show that Germany emitted 673 million metric tons of CO2 last year, a decline of 73 million metric tons compared with 2022 and the lowest level since the 1950s. The figure was 46% below the country’s emissions in 1990.

On Tuesday, Germany’s Federal Network Agency said that renewable energy sources accounted for more than half of the country’s energy production in 2023. Renewables rose to 56% of energy production, from 47.4% in 2022. At the same time, electricity production using black coal dropped to 8.9% from 12.8%, and lignite-fired electricity declined to 17.4% from 21%.

Germany switched off its last three nuclear power plants in April—a long-planned move, though some argued for a rethink after energy prices spiked because of the war in Ukraine. Nuclear power accounted for 1.5% of energy production in 2023, down from 6.7% the previous year.

More than half of last year’s reduction in emissions—some 44 million metric tons—was down to coal-fired electricity production falling to its lowest level since the 1960s, Agora said. That in turn was caused by a drop in electricity demand and increased imports from neighboring countries, around half of which came from renewable energy sources.

Also, emissions from industry declined considerably as energy-intensive companies reduced production as a result of economic weakness and international crises, the think tank said.

Germany, the worst-performing major developed economy in recent months, has been weighed down by high energy prices, global economic weakness, and interest rate hikes to fight inflation. The country is home to many energy-intensive companies, including in the chemical and metal industries.

Agora calculated that only about 15% of last year’s emissions savings constitute “permanent emissions reductions resulting from additional renewable energy capacity, efficiency gains, and the switch to fuels that produce less CO2 or other climate-friendly alternatives.” It said that “most of the emissions cuts in 2023 are not sustainable from an industrial or climate policy perspective.”

Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, a member of the environmentalist Green party who is also vice chancellor, said Germany has laid the foundations for future growth in renewable energy by moving to expand solar and wind generation.

“We are making visible progress on the road to climate-neutral electricity supply,” he said.

As for industry, “it is good that investments are being made in climate production and energy efficiency,” he said in a statement. But “it isn’t good that Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine and the price crisis that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wanted are leading to declines in production.”

Habeck pointed to government efforts to reduce electricity prices for industry.

—By Geir Moulson, Associated Press


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