Germany, one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal, will shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years to meet its international commitments in the fight against climate change, a government commission said Saturday. The announcement marked a significant shift for Europe’s largest country — a nation that had long been a leader on cutting CO2 emissions before turning into a laggard in recent years and badly missing its reduction targets. Coal plants account for 40% of Germany’s electricity, itself a reduction from recent years when coal dominated power production.
“This is an historic accomplishment,” said Ronald Pofalla, chairman of the 28-member government commission, at a news conference in Berlin following a marathon 21-hour negotiating session. The breakthrough ended seven months of wrangling. “It was anything but a sure thing. But we did it,” Pofalla said. “There won’t be any more coal-burning plants in Germany by 2038.” The plan includes some $45 billion in spending to mitigate the pain in coal regions. The commission’s recommendations are expected to be adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
“It’s a big moment for climate policy in Germany that could make the country a leader once again in fighting climate change,” said Claudia Kemfert, professor for energy economics at the DIW Berlin, the German Institute for Economic Research. “It’s also an important signal for the world that Germany is again getting serious about climate change: a very big industrial nation that depends so much on coal is switching it off.” The decision to quit coal follows an earlier bold energy policy move by the German government, which decided to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011.
At the time, that was harshly criticized as reckless by business leaders, who worried that it would raise electricity prices and make their industries less competitive against foreign rivals. They also pointed out the futility of the move because no other major industrial country followed Germany’s nuclear exit. Twelve of the country’s 19 nuclear plants have been shuttered so far.
The plan to eliminate coal-burning plants as well as nuclear means that Germany will be counting on renewable energy to provide 65% to 80% of the country’s power by 2040. Last year, renewables overtook coal as the leading source and now account for 41% of the country’s electricity.
German CO2 emissions fell appreciably in the early 1990s, largely because of the implosion of Communist East Germany and its heavily polluting industry. Still, the country continued to rely on coal-fired plants for a significant share of its electricity. Powerful utilities and labor unions helped keep coal-burning plants operating and previous governments even planned to expand the number of coal plants to compensate for the pending withdrawal from nuclear power. There are still about 20,000 jobs directly dependent on the coal industry and 40,000 indirectly tied to it.
Cheap and abundant, coal is the world’s leading source of energy to produce electricity and will remain so despite Germany’s exit, if world wide struggles are not developed against the use of fossil based energy sources. In India this is a great challenge before the people.
Erik Kirschbaum, Jan 26, 2019, Berlin