As end looms for coal, German mining region shifts right - report
Reuters / Clean Energy Wire
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s aim to wean Europe’s biggest economy off fossil fuels is a key issue in regional elections in eastern German coal mining states in autumn 2019, and it could strengthen the far right populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), writes Joseph Nasr in an article for news agency Reuters. “In a region where many fear the economy will collapse without the more than 16,000 jobs dependent on coal, the AfD’s climate change scepticism seems to be winning more voters than government pledges of funds to help the [Lusatia] exit from fossil fuels,” writes Nasr. AfD politicians are warning of heavy job losses during town hall meetings with supporters.
Cheap German coal has long supplied whole regions with jobs and wealth, and remains a pillar of the country’s energy supply, but the government has officially set in motion the gradual withdrawal from coal as part of its energy transition project. The migrant crisis that propelled the AfD into national parliament two years ago is fading from public discourse. The AfD has now turned to the coal issue and is Germany’s only major party to oppose the renewable energy transition. According to the article, the AfD is expected to significantly increase its share of the vote in the states Brandenburg and Saxony.
Faced with stagnating greenhouse gas emissions despite a rapid expansion of renewable power, Merkel’s grand coalition set up an expert coal exit commission to devise a plan. The task force recommended shutting the last coal-fired power plant by 2038. It is now up to the government to move on the proposal and mould it into legislative drafts before parliament gets the final say. Both Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance and the SPD have slumped in polls and in last year’s regional elections. Both parties are nervous that voters may perceive the coal commission deal negatively, as the AfD is polling strongly in eastern Germany. Expected power plant closures in the economically weak eastern mining regions ahead of the autumn elections are feared to strengthen this trend.