The German coal states are victims of political whiplash: the country’s planned coal exit date went from 2038 to “ideally” 2030 within months. But their economic transition away from the coal industry is far from complete, say some.
Conservative CDU minister-president Michael Kretschmer from Saxony, an Eastern German coal mining state, has encouraged labour unions to protest against plans by the prospective new federal government to pull forward the country’s coal exit by eight years to 2030, news magazine Der Spiegel and Clean Energy Wire reported.
At an event hosted by the German Trade Union Association (DGB), Kretschmer told unionists to “not meekly accept” the decision by the social democrat SPD, the Greens and the business-friendly liberal FDP, who look set to form a three-party coalition before mid-December.
“I don’t think it’s okay that this compromise is now being broken unilaterally on the part of politicians,” he told attendees.
Kretschmer was a member of the country’s coal exit commission, on whose recommendations the outgoing CDU/SPD government based its decision to end coal-fired power production no later than 2038.
Kretschmer said phasing out coal several years earlier than planned would amount to “a violation of trust” that coal workers had put into the existing plan. The CDU politician argued it would be impossible to create thousands of new jobs for the current coal workers in the remaining time until 2030.
His state of Saxony is one of the main beneficiaries of €40 billion the German government wants to disburse to the former coal regions. At the same time, there had been concerns that the money would not directly go to the affected regions.
Some €26 billion would be invested in the region by the federal government in larger-scale projects like highways, prompting concerns that the federal government would invest the money in long-planned projects.
There are also concerns that the German government was using EU green transition money, the so-called “Just Transition Fund” (JTF), to “plug holes” in the budget.
About €2.3 billion of EU funds that would have aided the transition away from coal from 2021 to 2027 in the regions will instead reduce the German federal contribution by 85% of their value.
That means that only 15% of the JTF’s 2021-2027 money, around €340 million, will make it to the coal regions in Germany on top of the assistance promised by the German government.
“The German finance minister is using EU funds to plug his budget holes. This is a sleight of hand by Scholz, which the German taxpayer also has to pay for,” explained Green EU lawmaker Sven Giegold, referring to then-minister and now designated Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Giegold is expected to assume the position of state secretary under super-minister Robert Habeck in the next German government, becoming one of the highest public officials in the economy, energy and climate ministry.
In contrast, Kretschmer’s fellow state premier Dietmar Woidke (SPD) from eastern coal-state Brandenburg said leaving coal earlier would be possible without damaging coal workers and regions.
Woidke, who also participated in the coal exit commission, said the Lusatia coal region in Brandenburg could become a European model for a successful transformation away from fossil fuels. “We have a great opportunity,” Woidke said.
The so-called “traffic light coalition” parties, named after the party colours of the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, respectively, had said in their joint coalition treaty that coal power should be “ideally” phased out no later than 2030, provided that supply security is not jeopardised and energy remains affordable.
Many climate researchers agree that the prospective government’s aim to comply with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will only be possible if coal is exited earlier and quickly replaced with renewable energy sources.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]