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Climate protection, not coal

Following Germany’s general elections and ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, Germany is planning to phase out coal. Time is short, but there are still problems to be overcome.

Protest against the use of coal-based energy
Protest against the use of coal-based energy © dpa

Germany. The phase-out will happen, even if the timetable is still unclear: regardless of which new government coalition is in power following the 2017 general elections, Germany looks set to gradually stop using coal to generate electricity. Germany was one of the first to sign the Paris climate accord, which for the first time imposes obligations on all the countries in the world – and is seen as a signal for an “era of decarbonisation”. So why is the issue still being discussed at all in Germany? We ask some key questions about the coal phase-out.

What role is played by coal-based energy in Germany?

Just over 40 percent of the electricity generated in Germany in 2016 came from coal-fired power plants. Nonetheless, the proportion of lignite and hard coal in the energy mix is declining. Renewable energies are becoming increasingly important, on the other hand: their contribution to gross power production recently climbed from 16 percent in 2009 to 29 percent. However, even if renewables are clearly the future, quite a lot of jobs in Germany are still dependent on the coal sector. While Germany’s last hard coal mine will discontinue production in 2018, at least 20,000 people are still employed in the lignite mining regions in the Rhineland and eastern Germany. The German Lignite Association (DEBRIV) also factors supplier jobs into the equation, arriving at a figure of up to 50,000 jobs that depend on coal.

Which strategies for phasing out coal exist?

Even strong supporters of the coal phase-out do not deny that some kind of offer has to be made to the regions that have so far profited from the lignite industry. The Agora Energiewende think tank has suggested that the federal government set up a structural transformation fund of 250 million euros, with the two states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg each receiving half. German Chancellor Merkel has announced that she will talk to the regions affected in an attempt to come up with alternatives for employees.

By 2050, carbon emissions in Germany are to be slashed by as much as 80 to 95 percent.

Why is it so important to phase out coal?

Burning coal – a fossil fuel – makes a substantial contribution to CO2 emissions, which are damaging to the climate. If Germany does not phase out coal-fired power production, it will not achieve its ambitious climate protection targets. “Germany will need to take around 20 older lignite power plants off-grid in the coming legislative period if it is to come close to its 40 percent CO2 reduction target by 2020”, says Agora Energiewende Director Patrick Graichen. By 2050, carbon emissions in Germany are to be slashed by as much as 80 to 95 percent. There is no time to lose.

UN Climate Change Conference 2017, 6 to 17 November in Bonn