Germany is the first major economy to phase out coal and nuclear power

German lawmakers passed new legislation ending the long-awaited removal of coal from the country, due to objections from environmental groups, the plan is not ambitious enough

BERLIN – German lawmakers have finalized the long-awaited phasing out of coal as a source of energy, backing a plan that environmental groups say is not ambitious enough and that free sellers criticize as a waste of taxpayer money.

The bills passed by both houses of parliament on Friday envisage closing the last coal-fired power plant by 2038 and spending about 40 billion euros ($ 45 billion) to help affected regions cope with the transition.

The plan is part of Germany’s ‘energy transition’, an effort to wean Europe’s largest economy from the fossil fuels that heat the planet and generate all of the country’s considerable energy needs from renewable sources. Achieving that goal is made more difficult than in comparable countries like France and Britain due to Germany’s existing commitment to phase out nuclear energy by the end of 2022 as well.

“Coal days are numbered in Germany,” said Environment Minister Svenja Schulze. “Germany is the first industrialized country to leave nuclear energy and coal behind.”

Greenpeace and other environmental groups have mounted vocal protests against the plan, including by placing a banner in front of the Reichstag building on Friday. They argue that the government’s roadmap will not reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement.

“Germany, the country that burns the most lignite coal worldwide, will load the next generation with 18 more years of carbon dioxide,” Greenpeace Germany CEO Martin Kaiser told The Associated Press.

Kaiser, who was part of a government-appointed commission of experts, accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of making a “historic mistake” and said that an end date for coal in 2030 would have sent a strong signal for European climate policy. and worldwide. Merkel has said she wants Europe to be the first continent to end its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Germany closed its last black coal mine in 2018, but continues to import the fuel and mine its own reserves of brown coal, a brownish coal that abounds in the west and east of the country. Authorities warn that the loss of mining jobs could harm these economically fragile regions, although efforts are already underway to convert the vast lignite mines into nature reserves and lakeside resorts.

Schulze, the environment minister, said there would be periodic government reviews to examine whether the coal’s completion date can be brought forward. He noted that by the end of 2022, eight of the country’s most polluting coal plants will have already been closed.

Environmentalists have also criticized the large sums offered to coal companies to close their plants, a complaint shared by libertarians such as the opposition Free Democratic Party of Germany.

Katja Suding, a top FDP lawmaker, said the government should have chosen to expand existing emissions trading systems that put a price on carbon, thereby encouraging operators to shut down unprofitable coal plants.

“You just have to make it so expensive that it is no longer profitable to convert coal into electricity,” he said.

This week, utility companies in Spain closed seven of the country’s 15 coal-fired power plants, saying they could not operate at a profit without government subsidies.

But the head of Germany’s main miners’ union, Michael Vassiliadis, welcomed the decision, calling it a “historic milestone”. He urged the government to then focus on expanding renewable energy generation and the use of hydrogen, which is touted as a long-term replacement for natural gas.

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, funded by the state of Germany, approximately 55.7% of the net electricity generated so far this year for the supply of public energy came from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity. Coal accounted for almost 20%, followed by nuclear and natural gas with approximately 12% each.


David Rising contributed to this report.