( Clean Energy Wire) – Energy transition home country Germany eyes a phase-out of coal power by 2038 at the very latest, as the country tries to get back on track to create a climate-friendly economy. In its highly anticipated phase-out proposal, the country’s
Germany’s task force in charge of proposing how the country can stop burning coal to protect the climate has reached a compromise on how to approach this daunting task and when to complete it, following months of heated discussions.
“The commission recommends the end of the year 2038 as the closing date for coal-fired power generation,” the commission’s highly anticipated proposal said. Under the right conditions, “this date can be brought forward to 2035 at the earliest,” according to the document totalling around 130 pages.
In a first step, coal-fired power plants with a capacity of 12.5 gigawatts should be shut down by 2022 – nearly one third of the capacity in 2017 – to rein in emissions that currently overshoot Germany’s climate targets significantly.
If adopted by government, the proposal would make Germany the largest economy on the globe with concrete plans to end the use of coal to produce electricity.
But the task at hand will require strong political leadership, and it remains uncertain whether the fragile government coalition will muster the necessary strength. Both Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU as well as her coalition partner, the Social Democrats have slumped in polls and last year’s regional votes, and elections in East German states – including
At the same time, voters in favour of more climate action have been flocking to the Green Party, while international criticism of German climate policy has also increased.
“Implementing the deal would place Germany once again among international climate protection frontrunners,” said Ronald Pofalla, one of four commission leaders and former head of Angela Merkel’s Chancellery. “Germany can show that it can remain a highly industrialised nation while protecting the climate.”
Stopping the use of coal is more difficult for Germany in comparison to many other countries because it is still heavily reliant on the fossil fuel, some of which is still mined domestically, and because it is phasing out nuclear power at the same time in its landmark energy transition (Energiewende) towards renewables. Germany’s efforts are closely watched by other countries heavily reliant on coal, such as neighbouring Poland.
An example to follow?
Former coal mining state premier Stanislaw Tillich, who also co-chaired the commission, said the agreement provided “an example to other coal regions in Europe and beyond,” and should inspire them to follow suit.
But critics have already warned that Germany’s decision to ease the way out of coal use with generous compensation payments will make the exit unnecessarily expensive and put other countries off. The regions affected by the structural change should get financial support of what regional politicians said would amount to 40 billion euros over 20 years. The deal also includes suggestions for ways to compensate coal plant operators and buffer the effect on industry and households from any rise in power prices in the wake of the
Germany has managed to rapidly increase the share of renewable power to around 40 percent of the electricity it uses, and has even covered its entire power use with green sources over short periods. But the country must also phase out coal to fulfil its climate pledges, as the rapid roll-out of renewables alone has not lowered
This is why Germany set up the coal commission last year to settle the matter in a broad consensus. Its mandate was to find economic perspectives for coal workers and regions, and to spell out measures to reduce carbon emissions in line with Germany’s climate targets, including an end date for coal-fired power production, the most prominent blemish on Germany’s emissions record.
The task force proposal is not binding, but the government is widely expected to follow its recommendations because the commission is backed by a large parliamentary majority.
Deal receives broad round of applause
The deal was greeted by most NGOs, researchers, and business associations as an important milestone for Germany’s climate protection efforts.
“The whole world is watching how Germany – a nation based on industry and engineering, the fourth largest economy on our planet – is taking the historic decision of phasing out coal,” said Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “This could cascade globally, locking in the fastest energy transition in history,” he added. “Germany is acting, even if the commission’s decision is not flawless.”
27 of the 28 commission members – including representatives from the business community, coal mining regions, and scientists – voted in favour of the agreement. Only the representative of villages threatened by
Greenpeace and other climate activists said the timetable violated the Paris Climate Targets, but also welcomed the agreement in general.
„At least Germany is moving again after years in climate policy coma,” said Greenpeace’s commission member Martin Kaiser.
Nicholas Stern, chair of the London School of Economics’ (LSE) Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, called the agreement an “important step,” but added “the German Government should continue to seek ways to phase out coal as a source of electricity well before 2038.”
The commission did not rule out that the use of coal to generate power in Germany might even end before 2035. Commission leader Pofalla said market developments could make coal power unprofitable in the early 2030s.
Setting sights on cutting emissions in transport and heating
The phase-out deal was mainly designed to ensure that Germany can fulfil its target of reducing emissions in the energy sector by more than 60 percent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. This will only be possible by switching off around half of its coal power plants by then.
Climate economist and commission co-chair Barbara Praetorious said Germany will “certainly reach” its 2030 climate target for the energy sector if the deal is implemented. But she added: “It is obvious that a
Germany can only reach its overall 2030 climate target if emissions are also sharply cut in other sectors of the economy, notably in transport and buildings. Two additional commissions similar to the
The commission reiterated a common request from many energy experts that the country should overhaul its system of energy taxes, levies and surcharges to allow for better integration of all energy-consuming sectors. The commission fell short of calling for a carbon price, however, only recommending the government “examined” to introduce a price on CO2 in the areas not governed by the European
Commentators agreed that the deal was only the start for a challenging road ahead. Implementing the
The first media commentaries also focused on the work ahead. “The
*Like the Clean Energy Wire, Agora Energiewende is a project funded by Stiftung Mercator and the European Climate Foundation.
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