German Coal Exit Commission recommends Just Transition measures but a 2038 deadline

coal machine germanyOn January 26, the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment, (better known as the Coal Exit Commission) delivered its highly-anticipated report and a “roadmap” for lignite coal plant closures in the country. The report calls for Germany to end coal-fired power generation by 2038 – subject to reviews by independent experts in 2026, 2029, and 2032, when it  will be decided if the deadline can be advanced to 2035. The 28 official Commissioners, drawn from industry, unions, environmental NGOs, community leaders and government, negotiated for six months , with all but one voting in favour of the final recommendations. Greenpeace voted “yes”, but also issued a dissenting opinion, stating  “Germany finally has a road map for how to make the country coal-free. There will be no further coal plants. Greenpeace and other groups made sure that the commission has clearly supported keeping Hambach forest. However, the report has a grave flaw: the speed is not right.” Other participants, including Sir Nicholas Stern, also criticized the slow speed of the plan.  The Powering Past Coal Alliance , of which Canada and the U.K. were founding members, state that, in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,  “a coal phase-out is needed by no later than by 2030 in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and in the European Union.”

A compilation of reactions from Commissioners is here. From Michael Vassiliadis, head of the miners’ union IG BCE :“We have found a compromise after 21 hours of negotiations that cannot make us happy, but leaves us overall satisfied. We managed to shield the employees in coal power generation from social hardships from the structural change. At the same time, the coal phase-out is closely tied to verifiable progress with the future energy mix, the expansion of renewables and the grids. The regions get money for structural change, to create new quality jobs. The commission laid the foundation for a new Energiewende of reason.”

The 336-page report is currently available in German only; , but it is well summarized in English in a Fact Sheet from Clean Energy Wire. According to CLEW, key issues addressed are the stability and pricing of energy supplies for Germany, CO2 reduction, and compensation to industry.  Regarding Just Transition for workers and communities, the report devotes almost 40 pages to the economic measures for the regional economies and workers. While the report itself doesn’t estimate those costs, an article in Der Speigel   states that communities will receive 40 billion euros in structural assistance over the next 20 years.  The Commission calls for the coal mining regions to remain energy-oriented, through the development of innovative technologies, such as electricity storage, renewable energy, or power-to-gas production .

The Commission’s recommendations are expected to be accepted by government, but there is a long road ahead in passing legislation and negotiating financing, as outlined in  “German government stands ready to move on coal exit proposal” (Jan. 29). The coal exit will be one part of the government’s Climate Action Law package, promised for the end of 2019.

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