Job of ending coal in Germany handed to 31-member committee

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Commission will set phase-out timeline for coal, but greens warn it may be too weak to salvage Germany’s reputation as a climate leader.

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Zollverein coal mine is a large former industrial site in the city of Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (Photo: Thomas Wolf)
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Climate Change News

Zollverein coal mine is a large former industrial site in the city of Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany (Photo: Thomas Wolf)

Germany’s coal phase-out strategy will be designed by a 31-member commission with four co-chairs, set to be launched by the cabinet on Wednesday.

In a sign of how contentious the topic is, the government deferred the launchthree times amid wrangling over the commission’s membership.

The final makeup of the body was reported in German media this week. An environment ministry spokesperson told Climate Home News it was “nearly 100%” certain to be signed off.

Climate advocates have warned the commission’s remit has been weighted towards economic stability over meeting international climate commitments.

Its name, the Special Commission on Growth, Structural Economic Change and Employment, does not reference climate or coal.

Unofficially, though, it is known as the Kohlekommission or coal commission. Its most hotly disputed output is an end date for burning coal: as late as 2045 under business-as-usual, or before 2030 if greens get their way.

Coal generates more than a third of Germany’s electricity and 80% of power sector emissions.

“At the moment, the climate is rather marginalised,” said Brigitte Knopf, head of the Mercator Research Institute. “I am not very optimistic that we will see a very powerful statement concerning the coal phaseout.”

Two of the commission’s co-chairs are former premiers of mining states: Brandenburg’s centre-left Matthias Platzeck and Saxony’s centre-right Stanislaw Tillich.

They are joined by climate economist Barbara Praetorius and former top finance official-turned-Deutsche Bahn lobbyist Ronald Pofalla.

Eight federal ministries and six states claim seats at the table, along with representatives of organisations ranging from Greenpeace to mining union IG BCE. They are to meet first on 26 June and report by the end of 2018.

With such a broad spectrum of participants, “this commission will find it very difficult to come to a conclusion”, said Michael Schäfer, climate lead at WWF Germany.

In an interview with Der Tagesspiegel, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock accused the government of lacking the courage to make the politicised decision.

A ban on new coal mines and clear phaseout plan is best for the climate and workers, she argued. “It now needs all the climate protectors of this republic to save the thing,” she said. “Only then can Germany comply with the commitments made in the Paris climate agreement.”

The commission is also tasked with advising on short and medium-term carbon cutting plans.

It is to recommend measures to close the gap “as far as possible” to Germany’s 2020 emissions target. That is likely to involve closing 3-7GW of coal power stations, but fall short of the intended 40% cut from 1990 levels.

Beyond that, it will lay the groundwork for a climate law to be drafted in 2019 that will aim to reduce emissions to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030. Alongside coal, greening road transport is a key challenge for next decade.

These climate policies are to be balanced with transition plans to preserve jobs and living standards in mining regions. In 2016, an estimated 32,000 people were directly employed in the coal industry.

While that is a fraction the number working in renewables, the decline of coal has already depressed the fortunes of once-wealthy areas.

Sven Harmeling, Care International’s climate policy lead, said the commission should aim to complete its work before countries met in neighbouring Poland this December for the Cop24 UN climate talks.

Countries are set to finalise the rulebook for implementing the Paris Agreement and ratcheting up action to hold global warming “well below 2C” and aiming for 1.5C.

Trust in the process is fragile and Germany’s failure to live up to its 2020 climate promises has left a question mark over its international credibility.

“The coal phase-out trajectory must be guided by the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C limit and Germany’s fair contribution to it,” said Harmeling. “While the end year for the coal phase-out is important, it is not the only thing that matters.

First steps to really bring down emissions from coal need to be made quickly so to close as much as possible the gap to the 40% reduction target for 2020.”

Source: Climate Change News. Reproduced with permission.

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9 Comments
  1. john 6 months ago

    The use of poor quality coal in Germany which produces 80% of their emissions does present a problem.
    To move away from the producer of 30% of their power has to be replaced that is the quandary they are facing.
    No doubt knowing the German ability to do engineering I am confident they will work out a solution.
    No doubt backup from storing that excessive RE comes to mind.
    Large PHES comes to mind.

  2. Joe 6 months ago

    Anthracite ( Black Coal ) mining in Germany is finishing by the end of 2018. It is Lignite ( Brown Coal ) that is the problem but it it is so cheaply priced for consumers that it hangs on as an industry despite the terrible environmental costs. I watch and read Deutsche Welle / DW ( Germany’s National Broadcaster ) and they recently put up the employment numbers …20,000 jobs currently in Coal vs 340,000 jobs currently in Renewables. On jobs and environment grounds what is the German Govt. waiting for?

    • MaxG 6 months ago

      Deutsche Welle — the propaganda channel 🙂
      I watched it while in Germany along with other outlets; and they deviate quite often from mainstream facts and figures.

      • Joe 6 months ago

        I can only go by what I see and hear and I find DW quite informative and a credible news source covering events at home in Germany as well as from around the globe.

        • MaxG 6 months ago

          Yes, I admit, a bit harsh… but, dear old Germany looked a bit better compared to nationally broadcasted news.
          It is certainly well researched and commentated, like most things in Germany; simply look for product information, and compare it to what you get on an Aussie web site.

  3. MacNordic 6 months ago

    Few things to the article above:
    Most of the discussion in Germany centers on the ongoing mining and use of lignite.
    Hard coal mining will end this year, with the last two mines closing down.
    Power production is a different thing, but at the moment there are very few discussions on hard coal fired power stations (which are being run on import coal now).

    Electricity production from coal firing in 2017 was 39.4% of the total 547TWh, with lignite contributing 24.5% (134TWh) and hard coal 14.9% (81.7TWh).
    Down from 2015, when that was 42%/ 24%/ 18%.

    Job numbers: Around 12.000 jobs are in the hard coal sector, which will be drawn down from the end of this year – with a good portion of the employees tasked with the ongoing rehab (where possible at all) of the mines (deep pit mines under cities are not a good idea – maintenance free definitely not).

    Of the total of ~20.000 in the lignite sector, around 5000 are employed in the power generation part and around 1000 are apprentices – often in jobs with highly sought after skillsets (thus not dependent on the ongoing operation of the lignite sector). Rehab of the lignite mines will still take decades (up to 2100 and later*) and a quite extensive workforce, so it is not as if all jobs would be gone when ending mining.

    There are some ideas on using the pits as PHES sites. In addition to that, the 564km² currently used for lignite mining could accommodate anything between 50- 100GW of wind and solar. None of these possibilities is being publicly discussed at the moment.

    *Mostly resulting from long- term (“slow”) flooding of the deep pits and regeneration of the ground water table.

    Data source for coal share in power generation: energy-charts.de, for job numbers: braunkohle.de/3-1-Lignite-2017.html

    • Joe 6 months ago

      I hope I am wrong with my thinking but is, the soon to completed, Nordstream 2 ( Gas from Vlad Putinland ) pipeline intended to be the replacer for Germany’s Coal burners.

      • MacNordic 6 months ago

        So do I. But for several reasons, this is not very likely:
        – Cost, first and foremost: generating electricity from gas is simply too expensive to hold up*
        – Total gas generating capacity is just ~29GW- which includes peaking plants and cogeneration, compared to 25+21GW of hard coal/ lignite*
        – lack of large- scale, widespread addition of new plants (which would be required to overcome lack of total capacity mentioned above)

        Most of the gas goes into heating – and the reasons for building that pipeline are more geopolitical than anything else: Russia wants to be freed from any constraints currently experienced from the routing of gas through Ukraine as well as a preemptive insurance against American LNG hitting the European market. With NordStream 2 in place, they can turn off the pipeline via Ukraine in case of issues – without angering their customers in the EU too much.
        And if the US (or somebody else) tries to break into the European LNG market, they can price their product conveniently just below the LNG – and have the pipeline capacity to satisfiy demand.

        *data from energy-charts.de – nice site to play with graphs and numbers;-)

        • Joe 6 months ago

          Poor old Ukraine again, the gas tap might be shut whenever the Vlad feels like sticking it to Ukraine.

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