Berlin Proponents of a speed limit argue that it is good for the environment and that there are fewer deaths. An analysis by the Institute for World Economy (IfW) makes a different calculation. A general speed limit on German autobahns would have after a Analysis by IfW researcher Ulrich Schmidt “Significant economic costs”. It is therefore “misleading” to describe the introduction of a speed limit as an almost free contribution to climate protection.
Schmidt contradicts the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD). Both have written in more recent publications that slower driving makes a contribution to climate protection without significant additional costs. According to Schmidt, however, the costs are “considerable and therefore inappropriately high in relation to the savings that can be achieved”.
Even if you assume greater road safety and thus fewer road deaths, the speed limit does not pay off, the expert emphasizes. Schmidt argues that in their own studies, both the UBA and the VCD “ignore the fact that slower traffic leads to loss of time and thus costs for drivers”.
For his calculation, Schmidt assumes the annual mileage on German motorways specified by the Federal Environment Agency and calculates the average longer driving times according to the proposed speed limits. He then multiplied the time lost by a standard hourly wage.
As the economic researcher calculates, this would result in welfare losses for the German economy between 1.3 billion euros at a speed limit of 130 and 7.3 billion euros at a speed of 100, taking into account the fuel saved.
Steep template for the environment minister
If these costs are put in relation to the CO2 emissions that can be avoided by a speed limit according to UBA estimates, the result is a price of 716 to 1,382 euros per ton of CO2 avoided. In his analysis, Schmidt sums up these are high costs in relation to other options for reducing emissions. For comparison: the current price for one ton of CO2 in the European emissions trading system is around 25 euros. “For reasons of climate protection alone, a general speed limit on motorways cannot be justified from a cost-benefit perspective,” concludes Schmidt.
The Federal Environment Agency’s calculations to which Schmidt refers were published at the beginning of the year. According to this, a general top speed of 130 kilometers per hour would save around 1.9 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.
Environment Minister Svenja Schulze used the template to promote her position: “In the transport sector, there is the greatest need for action in terms of climate protection – and such a speed limit is also acceptable to the majority in society,” said the SPD politician at the time. The department of Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, on the other hand, was more skeptical – the CSU politician is a declared speed limit opponent.
His ministry also pointed out that the Bundestag and, most recently, the Bundesrat had rejected a speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour. However, the SPD had voted against the party’s own resolution in the Bundestag because it was about an opposition motion and it is working in a coalition with the Union. In the Bundesrat, too, states abstain when coalition partners are at odds.
Corona crisis helps climate protection
In any case, the new figures from the Federal Environment Agency were not surprising. For speed limit friends they were nevertheless helpful – because the last calculation by the authorities was from 1999 and only referred to Tempo 120. Now the data is fresher.
1.9 million tons are only around 1.2 percent of the 163 million tons of CO2 equivalents – a unit into which all greenhouse gases are converted – of the entire transport sector in Germany in 2018. The UBA argues that cars and looked at light commercial vehicles that emitted 39.1 million tons of CO2. And then 1.9 tons would be a reduction of almost five percent.
What is certain is that something has to be done in the transport sector. Emissions have barely decreased since 1990. As a result of the corona crisis, Germany could still achieve its climate protection target for 2020. In the Climate Protection Act, however, the CO2 targets are precisely specified – and those who fail to do so must submit immediate programs. Environment Minister Schulze has already made it clear that, from her point of view, the speed limit should be put back on the table.
IfW researcher Schmidt advises to approach the topic in a more differentiated manner. For time- and location-dependent environmental damage, such as emissions of fine dust or noise from cars, time- and location-dependent road usage charges would be an efficient means. Local or traffic-dependent speed limits could also be suitable. “The demands for a general speed limit on motorways, on the other hand, appear to be a symbolic policy that is of little use to the environment, but imposes high costs on the citizens,” said Schmidt.
More: Read here why the Greens want to enforce Tempo 130 in the event of government participation.