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German expert panel agrees on 2038 deadline to end coal use

Updated January 27, 2019

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The so-called Coal Commission reached agreement in the early hours of Saturday. — File
The so-called Coal Commission reached agreement in the early hours of Saturday. — File

BERLIN: In a pioneering move, a government-appointed panel on Saturday recommended that Germany stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2038 at the latest, as part of efforts to curb climate change.

The so-called Coal Commission reached agreement in the early hours of Saturday, following months of wrangling that were closely watched by other coal-dependent countries.

“We made it,” Ronald Pofalla, the head of the commission, told reporters in Berlin.

“This is a historic effort.” Germany gets more than a third of its electricity from burning coal, generating large amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The 28-member panel, representing mining regions, utility companies, scientists and environmentalists, suggests a review in 2032 could bring forward the deadline to 2035.

The plan foresees billions in federal funding to help affected regions cope with the economic impact, and to shield industry and consumers from higher electricity prices.

The energy transition will also need a huge overhaul and modernisation of the country’s power grid, the commission’s members said.

The decision still needs government approval.

“The whole world is watching how Germany a nation based on industry and engineering, the fourth largest economy on our planet is taking the historic decision of phasing out coal,” said Johan Rockstroem, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research.

“This could cascade globally, locking in the fastest energy transition in history.” The plan foresees that Germany’s coal plants will be phased out step-by-step to reduce the output of greenhouse gases. Currently, Germany’s coal plants produce the largest amount of carbon dioxide of any country in Europe.

The commission’s plan leaves open which plants should be shut down first, saying it’s a decision the government needs to negotiate with the plants’ operators, the German news agency dpa reported.

The commission suggests that in the next ten years, the government should help create up to 5,000 new jobs in the affected regions when coal mining will be phased out. These regions in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony should also get federal subsidies totaling $45.6bn in the next twenty years.

“New jobs will be created through structural measures in the coal mining regions,” Pofalla said.

“We will keep up secure and affordable energy supply and the agreement will lead to sustainable climate protection in Germany.” Germany is committed to an “energy transition” that involves replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources such as solar and wind power.

While the country has made great strides in that direction renewables beat coal for the first time last year removing coal from the power equation entirely is a major challenge.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2019