Coal war heats up in Germany

Germany has a genuine coal war going on. The newly appointed “Coal Commission” is supposed to decide coal’s future and the war of words is definitely heating up. Bear in mind that almost half of Germany’s electric power comes from coal fired generation. That is a lot of juice and a lot of jobs.

Last week we reported that six of Germany’s big coal producing States had officially petitioned the Commission to consider letting coal do its job for another 30 years or so, which in political terms is forever. But no matter what the Commission says, the decision lies with Angela Merkel’s federal government.

Now another political heavyweight has weighed in on coal’s behalf. This is no less than the German Social Democrat party (SPD), which is Merkel’s bedfellow in the coalition government. It took months of delicate negotiations to bring the SPD in, to save the government for Merkel, so these folks have a very big say indeed, bigger than the States.

The SPD is the moderate leftie party, so their concern is jobs, not coal per se. Just as with the Trump Administration, the issue is workers (and voters), not climate change. Reportedly the new SPD leader, Andrea Nahles, has issued a warning against a hasty exit from national coal power generation in Germany, without taking the impact thereof on regional unemployment into account.

Nahles has gone even further and actually attacked Germany’s other major left wing party, the Greens, for pushing the quick phase-out of coal fired juice. She is reported as saying “The Greens are seeking to protect the climate with a state-ordered decommissioning of coal power plants without taking care of the local population in affected areas.”

The official name of what is universally called the “Coal Commission” is the commission on “Growth, Structural change and Employment” not climate change. This suggests that a long-term phase-out of coal use may well be in the offing. Their report is due in month or so. It should be fascinating reading.

By a marvelous coincidence, the years-long international negotiations to finalize the so-called “rule book” for the Paris Agreement on climate change, are also due to wrap up in December. A rapid end to coal use is central to Germany’s achieving its Paris Agreement target for emission reductions. So if the phase-out is slipped significantly, which now seems at least possible, perhaps even likely, it could be a real problem for the negotiations.

These negotiations are already stumbling, so much so that a special session is being held this week in Bangkok, Thailand. What has been produced so far has been described as hundreds of pages of contradictory ideas, which bears no resemblance to a negotiating text.

Germany has already said that it will not meet its 2020 Paris Agreement target. Merkel has said that they have little interest in tightening the 2030 target, which will be hard enough to achieve as it is. If the coal phase-out is slipped beyond 2030 it is almost guaranteed that that target cannot be met.

If ever-green Germany cannot meet its targets, then many other countries are likely to opt out as well. Thus the real world fate of the Paris Agreement may depend heavily on the German coal phase-out plan. Germany has been the driving force behind the Paris Agreement and that force may now be spent.

All green eyes are on Germany.

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About the Author: David Wojick, Ph.D.

David Wojick is a journalist and policy analyst. He holds a doctorate in epistemology, specializing in the field of Mathematical Logic and Conceptual Analysis.