Dependence on coal jeopardises climate targets

New studies have shown that German investment in foreign coal and planned power-plants have to be scrapped to achieve climate goals. [Nick Perrone/Flickr]

Decarbonisation is the name of the game in this day and age; now a new study has shown how it should actually be implemented. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

In the preface to a recently published study that outlines how Germany can achieve its carbon phase-out, Patrick Graichen, head of the energy think tank Agora, highlights how decarbonisation is now in vogue in energy policy. In a speech at the COP21 summit on Monday (30 November), the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that the decarbonisation of the global economy is a desirable long-term goal to work towards.

Germany’s Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, published a study on Tuesday (1 December) that concentrated on how investment can be used to achieve the goal. Barbara Hendricks, the environment minister, said that “more and more investors are realising that policy is now made with decarbonisation in mind.” In terms of working towards limiting global warming to two degrees, it is unclear how individual investment decisions will be affected.

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The study provides practical guidance on the issue, not only for development banks, which the study focused on, but also the federal government itself. Berlin has decided that the state-owned KfW bank will continue, in some cases, to invest in foreign coal-fired power plants. According to the study, this policy is incompatible with the two degrees objective.

Chinese investment abroad

France already announced earlier this year that it would stop investing in coal power plants in other countries. But there is still an appetite for investment from other parties. Another study carried out by the Climate Policy Initiative, presented on Tuesday (1 December), outlined how much money China spends on the construction of coal-fired plants abroad. In the last decade, China has spent between $21-38 billion on such projects and plans to invest a further $35-72 billion.

>>Read: NGOs call on German banks to stop funding coal

According to another study by the Carbon Action Tracker research group, if no new coal-fired power plants were to open and none were to be taken offline, by 2030 the amount of emissions produced by them would be 150% above the limit needed for the two degrees target to be met.

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If all planned coal power plants were to be built, some 2,440 installations, an additional 6.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide would be put into the atmosphere by 2030, adding to the 12 gigatonnes that would be produced by plants that are already operational. Last year, 35 gigatonnes were emitted in comparison. Coal-fired plants have a shelf-life of between 30 and 50 years. If the plants that are planned were in fact to be built and brought on-line, then CO2 levels would remain high for decades to come.

German targets

The authors of the Agora study concluded that Germany will only reach its 2030 climate goals if it takes at least half of its coal plants offline. Additionally, by 2040, power produced from coal must be below 40 terawatt hours. Currently, 260 terawatt hours are produced using coal as a fuel source. Not all of the power plants would reach the end of their lifespan, but would still be removed from the power grid nevertheless.

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Agora therefore suggested an “active structural change” and said that its door would be open for the Federal Association of the German Energy and Water Industries (BDEW). At an event organised by Tagesspiegel, the president of the German Renewable Energies Association (BEE), Fritz Brickwedde, said that the coal phase-out should be completed by 2040. Barbara Hendricks has voiced her wish to see it launched within the next 20 to 25 years.

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