02 Aug 2021, 12:38
Benjamin Wehrmann

German debate about coal end date 2038 heats up in election campaign

The debate about Germany's decision to shut down the last coal-fired power plant by 2038 at the latest has intensified in the election campaign. Economy minister Peter Altmaier expects the country to complete its coal power phase-out earlier than the original deadline. "The coal exit will happen faster than initially thought, as it is fuelled by the significant rise in the European emissions trading system (ETS)", Altmaier told news agency dpa in an article carried by Handelsblatt. The conservative (CDU) politician did not specify when the phase-out could be completed instead. However, for him an earlier end to coal power would not mean that support payments to coal mining regions should be reduced, arguing that people there would have to be able to "trust in our aid promises." Coal regions in western and eastern Germany will receive up to 40 billion euros in support payments to finance investments in infrastructure and industrial policy to compensate for the loss in jobs and revenue caused by the end of the region's often most important economic activity.

Altmaier's comments mirrored those of the CDU's candidate for chancellor, Armin Laschet, from an interview with public broadcaster ZDF. Following that interview, Laschet has been heavily criticised by environmental NGOs that were part of Germany's so-called coal commission for saying that the NGOs had agreed to the 2038 end date. "Laschet is either lying or misinformed," said Olaf Bandt of BUND in an article in newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. In the interview, Laschet had said the NGOs and climate scientists had "proposed" the late date, adding that "policymaking needs to be reliable." BUND head Bandt said his organisation and others like Greenpeace had "made it clear" that they prefer a 2030 deadline. "We expect Armin Laschet to correct his statement and promote a 2030 exit," Bandt said.

Laschet is currently head of North Rhine-Westphalia, which is among the states most affected by the coal exit. A 2030 end date has also been suggested by conservative (CSU) Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, a former competitor to Laschet for the CDU/CSU alliance's bid for the chancellery. Söder had argued that Germany could not reach its climate targets without a faster coal exit and should reconsider support payments to coal regions in favour of greater investments into renewable power research and expansion.

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