Further setback for Germany’s planned coal phase out

Sigmar Gabriel has emphasised that there is a middle-ground between environmentalists and energy companies. [Stefan Fussan/Flickr]

Germany’s Minister for Energy, Sigmar Gabriel, remains cautious on the subject of the country’s planned phase-out of coal, receiving backing from his SPD colleagues. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany’s plans to phase out coal as an energy source remain shaky. The Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has poured cold water on the notion that the decarbonisation plan could be carried out sooner rather than later. Other German politicians have also urged patience.

Gabriel, speaking at an energy conference in Berlin, said that, “When one considers the future of coal, I would urge that you do so less from an ideological standpoint and to think more about the economic consequences.”

He also highlighted the common ground between coal’s detractors and the energy companies. Lignite mine operators have mooted an end to production by 2050, while ecological think tank Agora recently floated a concept that had 2040 as its deadline.  “I don’t think this difference of ten years is an insurmountable problem,” Gabriel added.

>>Read: Germany’s faltering coal-exit ambitions

The SPD chief also announced that he would be organising a roundtable event for all the concerned parties. Without demonstrating the alternative to coal to people and the regions, phasing out coal completely could not be possible, he said.

Exit scenarios can only be considered when there are sustainable jobs waiting and ready. In order to achieve the required CO2 savings from electricity production, the European Emissions Trading scheme would have to be made functional again.

2040: an important date

Consumer protection association Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) welcomed Gabriel’s proposed roundtable. “Starting the coal phase-out is essential to the Energy Transition and for Germany to meet its climate goals. The phase-out has to be completed by 2040,” said DUH’s national manager, Sascha Müller-Kraenner, who added that the dirtiest plants should be taken offline even sooner.

>>Read: German 2020 climate targets in danger

At the same time, he also warned that Germany risks not meeting its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 (in comparison to 1990 levels). “The main reason for that is that despite the rapid expansion of renewables, there has also been an increase in coal use,” he said.

Berlin approved targets of a 55% reduction by 2030, a 70% reduction by 2040 and an 80-95% reduction by 2050. Yet, these goals will not be reached if a coal phase-out is not started immediately, warned Müller-Kraenner.

North-Rhine Westphalia’s Minister President, Hannelore Kraft, previously rejected a full coal phase-out for the foreseeable future. “In the medium-term, we need conventional power plants as a backup,” said the SPD politician. It is difficult to say when a combination of renewables and storage will be able to provide for all the electricity needs of the country year-round.

She also added that plans to carry out the phase-out within the next 15-20 years were unrealistic. “We cannot say today when we will be able to completely dispense will coal power,” she added.

>>Read: Auditors find that German nuclear providers can afford phase-out

The Greens and environmentalists in particular have long called upon Berlin to phase out nuclear power as well as coal. Last year, the G7 countries agreed to sever ties with fossil fuels by the end of the century.

Subscribe to our newsletters