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Germany cuts coal to reach climate targets

Germany wants to reduce coal power to achieve its climate goal - and send a positive signal to the climate summit in Peru in early December. The government is planning new legislation.

In the struggle to meet its climate targets, the German government is planning legislation to reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. According to a proposal from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, German power stations would have to reduce their annual CO2 emissions by at least 22 million additional tons by 2020. Power plant operators would have the power to decide how to make the reductions.

For several months climatologists and the federal government have been warning that Germany will not be able to reach its climate targets without putting the brakes on coal-based power generation soon. The coal-fired power plants are currently producing a third of the greenhouse gas emissions in Germany.

By 2020, Germany wants to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990. So far, it has managed only 24 percent. With a special climate action program, the government now hopes to bridge the gap. A decision by the cabinet is planned for December 3rd. It is also designed as a positive signal to the world climate summit in Lima in early December.

Germany's emissions increased in recent years, mainly because of the increase in coal-fired power. The country's total CO2 emissions are currently at 950 million tons per year. By 2020, the annual CO2 emissions should fall by more than some 200 million tons to a maximum of 749 million tons per year.

But without additional measures, this target will clearly be missed. According to calculations by the Ministry of the Environment, another 62 to 100 tons of CO2 a year would have to be cut from power stations, heating and transport.

Infografik Emissionen von Treibhausgasen in Deutschland Englisch (Graphic: DW)

A third of CO2 emissions are produced by coal-fired power. With less coal power the climate goals could be achieved

Approval from environmental groups and the opposition

Environment and climate experts welcomed the announcement by Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel. "It's a first step out of coal-fired power," said Hubert Weiger, chairman of the BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany).

Claudia Kemfert (Photo: German Institute for Economic Research via Getty Images).

Claudia Kemfert advocates less coal power

At the same time he said it was not enough. "The potential is higher. A saving of 22 million tons of CO2 is only a third of what is necessary to achieve the national climate target for 2020."

The opposition also responded positively. It is "a step in the right direction," Oliver Krischer, energy expert for the Green party (Grünen), told a German newspaper. "It was high time Gabriel tackled dirty coal-fired power stations."

He said all other efforts to combat climate change were useless if the main CO2 polluters could continue as before.

Phasing out nuclear energy still feasible with less coal

The reduction of coal power also has the approval of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). Its experts say Germany could close down several old coal plants and reduce CO2 emissions while still switching off eight nuclear power stations by 2022.

Claudia Kemfert from the DIW says this would not jeopardize the country's energy supply. "We can do without old, inefficient coal plants. At the moment we have excess electricity and enough power plants," she said.

DIW says cutting back on coal would have advantages. As well as protecting the climate, it would stabilize prices on a power market that is not working well at the moment. Kemfert does not expect major price increases for private electricity customers.

One person who is less positive about the government proposals is Marcus Kerber, Director General of the Federation of German Industry (BDI). He warns of the risk of rising electricity prices for energy-intensive industries, which profited from falling prices on the German electricity market in the last few years.