Germany Is Shutting Its Coal Mines and Planning the Workers’ Transition

The Tagebau Garzweiler lignite mine in North Rhine-Westphalia     Photo: Martin Falbisoner, Wiki CC

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Germany is the world’s biggest producer of lignite, the least efficient and most polluting type of coal that creates 20% of the country’s carbon emissions. Over the past 60 years, entire towns have been cleared out in order to expand coal mines. But now, Germany wants to be the model for transitioning from coal to clean energy. The country plans to stop using coal by 2038 and has dedicated billions of dollars to make it a successful transition. As BBC’s Future Planet reports, a nonprofit near one of the country’s mines are engaging locals in the North-Rhine Westphalia region — many of them employed by the mines — to plan for their future. 

Why This Matters: The European Union has called for an end of coal by 2030. So Germany’s timeline is longer than recommended to hit the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target, and mine expansions are still planned in coming years. But the country’s process is promising. Engaging with the people who will be impacted by the energy transition is a key part of a just transition: one that secures workers’ rights and improves their quality of life. In addition to vocational and economic planning, locals have also proposed establishing more wild wooded areas for biodiversity and creating a museum about mining. With the United Mine Workers of America supporting a green transition, these holistic strategies could be used in the States as well, planning for both job training and quality living outside of work.

The Coal Transition Across Europe 

Half of Europe’s coal plants have announced plans to close by the 2030 target, but there’s still a ways to go to achieve the bloc’s goal. Economically, it’s decreasingly logical to keep using coal for energy: the EU’s carbon allowances, which must be purchased to burn coal, just hit a record 45 euros per ton. But many countries still have plans to keep burning coal at similar rates written into their national plans for the next decade. Germany, along with Poland and Czechia currently plan to burn the majority of coal, which will be increasingly expensive as carbon credit costs are expected to keep rising.  

“This means that even though further plant closures are likely, they have not been adequately planned for as governments try to protect jobs by supporting the industry,” Ember writes in their analysis.   The EU’s Just Transition Fund aims to move that process along. The 17.5 billion euro fund is specifically meant to help member states shift to clean energy and transform their local economies in a way that supports the people impacted.  

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