Germany, one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal, will shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants over the next 19 years and will work to rely significantly on renewable energy to meet its international commitments in the fight against climate change, a 28-member government commission said last Saturday. Although Germany was an early leader on climate issues and deployment of renewable energy, in recent years it began to fall behind in meeting its Paris Agreement emissions targets, making the announcement a significant turning point for Europe’s largest economy. The commission’s recommendations are expected to be adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.
As the LA Times reported, coal plants account for 40% of Germany’s electricity, itself a reduction from recent years when coal-dominated power production. Following Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster, Germany vowed to shut down its nuclear plans despite an outcry from the business community. The plan to eliminate coal-burning plants as well as nuclear means that Germany will be counting on renewable energy to provide 65% to 80% of the country’s power by 2040. Last year, renewables overtook coal as the leading source and now account for 41% of the country’s electricity. Despite Germany’s progress on renewable energy deployment, powerful utilities and labor unions helped keep coal-burning plants operating and previous governments even planned to expand the number of coal plants to compensate for the pending withdrawal from nuclear power. There are still about 20,000 jobs directly dependent on the coal industry and 40,000 indirectly tied to it.
Why This Matters: Germany is a leader in Europe when it comes to energy and if its transition is successful it could pave the way for other EU nations to more seriously commit to low-carbon energy. Additionally, German lawmakers aren’t forgetting the citizens who have worked in coal mines and have provided the nation with a source of cheap energy by including a $45 billion spending plan to help mitigate economic pain in coal regions. This is especially important because lawmakers who represent those east-German regions are facing tough reelections and are worried that far-right Alternative for Germany party candidates couple capitalize on fear and anxiety surrounding the transition away from coal.