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Parliament Offers Clean Air Road Map

Does the answer to Germany's future energy and clean air needs lie in the wind or the power of the atom? A Bundestag commission reports that windpower, solar power and more efficient fossil fuel use are the best path.


Renewable energy: A ray of light for the atmosphere

The German government has set the ambitious goal of cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by 80 percent by 2050 to meet international targets, but the country's leading political parties are divided over the best way to set off on that course.

Now the parties are disputing the results of a parliamentary commission assigned with studying scenarios for cutting greenhouse gases and issuing reform proposals.

On Tuesday, the German Parliament's Enquete Commission is to release a report stating that the emissions target - set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - can be achieved through more efficient use of energy and a massive increase in the production of renewable energy.

The commission said it is also possible to reach that goal and still shut down all of the country's nuclear power plants, as the government voted to do in December.

Axel Berg, the Social Democrat's group leader on the Enquete Commission, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Monday the commission had concluded that desired emissions cuts could be reached with current technologies. He said it would also require progressive increases in the environmental tax the government passed in 1999 to spur conservation by gradually increasing the price of energy and raw materials, like gas and electricity.

At least 50 percent of Germany's energy production in the future would have to originate from renewable sources, the 750-page study found.

The opposition Union bloc -- which includes the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union -- and Free Democrats say they will not support the report's findings and would like to bring the report up for a vote in the Bundestag.

The Enquete Commission contracted Prognos AG to research and draw conclusions from three scenarios. The first entailed increasing efficiency in the use of fossil fuel. The second involved expanding the country's renewable energy sources. The third and most controversial, involved the construction of new nuclear reactors, which is currently banned by German law.

At least one senior member of the government criticized proposals to eliminate nuclear power and coal burning when they were debated last year. The politically independent Economics Minister, Werner Müller, said it would not be economically possible to achieve both goals while cutting carbon-dioxide emissions as the Social Democrat and Alliance 90/The Greens led government was seeking to do. In November, he predicted the coversion costs would cost 256 billion euro ($253 billion).

The Union bloc's chanceller candidate, Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber, vehemently opposed legislation ordering the closure of Germany's nuclear power plants. But the bloc Stoiber represents - which is leading in national elections according to public opinion polls - has been vague about whether it plans to overturn the ban on new reactors in Germany if it wins the elections.

The CDU's election party platform suggests that nuclear energy might be an "option" in the future, but spells out no specific plans.

The mere mention of nuclear energy in any context other than an outright ban can spell political death in a country that found itself in the fallout path of Chernobyl.