Germany needs to start coal phase-out by 2019 to honour Paris targets

Germany can only hit its climate commitments by phasing out coal by 2035, says a new study. [Shutterstock]

If Germany wants to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement then it must start phasing out coal as an energy source by the end of the decade, according to a major new study by WWF. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany will need to have started to phase out coal by 2019 and to have got rid of it entirely by 2035 if it wants to reach its Paris climate commitments, according to WWF Germany’s Electric Future report.

Despite its strong focus on renewable energies, Germany is still one of Europe’s biggest polluters and six of the EU’s dirtiest coal power plants are in the country.

“Germany has a coal problem, and we can no longer put off addressing it. Our calculations clearly demonstrate that Germany’s very old coal power plants need to be decommissioned as quickly as possible,” said WWF Germany’s Christoph Heinrich.

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Germany is a rich country that can afford to pay off coal workers and invest millions of euros in the affected regions, E3G’s Sabrina Schulz told EURACTIV Slovakia.

In July of last year, an analysis of 257 of the EU’s 280 coal plants found that their emissions caused the deaths of 22,900 people. Tens of thousands more suffer from illnesses that are directly tied to the burning of coal, including heart problems and bronchitis.

Corresponding health costs are thought to be over €60 billion. In 2013, 3,630 Germans died of carbon-related diseases according to the Europe’s Dark Cloud report, produced by the Health and Environment Alliance, Climate Action Network Europe, WWF’s Europe office and Sandbag.

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“The Paris Agreement was unanimously ratified in the German parliament,” said Heinrich. “This constitutes a clear mandate to start phasing out coal by 2019 at the latest. Any further delay would indicate that commitments made in line with the Paris agreement are not being taken seriously,” he added.

ClientEarth environmental lawyers have also called on Berlin to make it clear when the phase-out will begin.

At the beginning of last year, German Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) warned against a rapid phase-out of coal, insisting that the economic consequences have to be considered. Other German politicians have also urged patience.

Further setback for Germany’s planned coal phase out

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.

But Gabriel’s money-focused argument holds no water for WWF’s EU climate policy chief, Imke Lübbeke.

“Germany should lead the EU away from coal and towards 100% renewables,” she said.

“Phasing out coal power, alongside dedicated support for mining regions affected by this transition, will relieve EU countries of massive health and social costs and help avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Several countries, including the United Kingdom, have in the last year expressed their desire to move away from coal.

But ClientEarth’s environmental lawyers fear that investment will be curtailed by the perception that coal is a safe bet in guaranteeing energy security.

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