Germany’s faltering coal-exit ambitions

Lignite is pulled from the ground via large-scale open-pit mining. [Tobias Mandt/Flickr]

How and when Germany will say goodbye to fossil fuels remains ambiguous. Berlin intends to present its 2050 climate protection strategy before summer 2016. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Germany’s environment minister has not put a date on when the country will make its long anticipated withdrawal from coal

Pursuing a quick exit from coal-use is likely to rub too many people the wrong way, so Federal Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks’ promises have become more restrained since her initial optimism that it would be completed within the next 20 years.

“It’s clear that we have to have stopped using fossil fuels by the middle of the century, at the latest,” said the SPD politician on Monday (14 December) in Berlin. This tallies with what has just been agreed at the COP21 summit in Paris.

>>Read: Dependence on coal jeopardises climate targets

Hendricks also warned that it will be difficult to achieve the global warming target that was finally hashed out in Paris. However, Germany is already on the right path thanks to targets it adopted in 2007. Berlin’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 and at least 80-95% by 2050, both in comparison with 1990 levels, is feasible.

“Our economy is in such a position that we can achieve an organised exit from coal,” said Hendricks.

The environment minister called for “structural change, without structural breaks”. She also said that the action plan regarding use of brown coal, or lignite, has to be discussed with the German regions, industries and employers.

A fierce debate is likely to be had on the issue and a consensus will be hard to achieve.

German enterprises divided

Around 30 medium and large enterprises, including energy providers EnBW and E.ON, as well as Adidas and Puma, have called for a “tightening” of German climate goals, so that “decarbonisation can be a recipe for economic success and social justice”.

The alliance of companies, which also includes Germanwatch and the 2 Degrees Foundation, also believe that strengthening European emission trading and the global CO2 market as essential.

>>Read: Adidas, Puma, Aldi, Commerzbank demand EU policy overhaul after COP21

Numerous other industries see the situation entirely differently though. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) warned against being too ambitious too quickly with the climate targets. “Now is not the time to rush into new European and national targets,” said the Federation’s president Ulrich Grillo.

>>Read: Green MP: Germany should phase out coal and combustion engines

From the EU’s perspective, a tightening of climate protection goals is not on the immediate agenda. Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU executive’s Commissioner for Climate Action and Strategy said that that for the next three years the Juncker Commission will be focused on implementing laws to meet the 2030 climate goal.

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