17 Nov 2014 | Sven Egenter

German energy minister dismisses reports of changes to climate goals

Following heated debate over a possible exit from coal-fired power, Sigmar Gabriel has reaffirmed his commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020.

Germany's Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy has dismissed media reports that the government was about to lower its goals for emissions reductions. However, Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democrats) reiterated his opposition to a quick exit from coal-fired power generation, which many environmentalists consider necessary to reach the target.

The debate over an exit strategy from coal as an energy source has been heating up in Germany as the government is under pressure to present additional measures to meet its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990. The government itself has admitted that the goal could not be met without further efforts.

"We will manage the 40 percent," Gabriel said in an interview with German TV station ARD on Sunday night.

Earlier, news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Gabriel had said in internal talks that the goal could not be achieved.

"No, we can obviously maintain it (the target)," Gabriel said in the TV interview. "We have to prove -- also because of the international effect -- that an industrialised country such as Germany is able to take action on climate without threatening its economic success."

Germany has seen carbon emissions rising despite its energy transition, or Energiewende, a simultaneous move towards renewables and phase-out of nuclear power, because coal has pushed more expensive but less carbon-intensive natural gas out of the market.

Environmental groups have insisted that the 40 percent goal can only be achieved by starting to take coal-fired power plants off the grid. Other media reports indicated last month that some in Gabriel's ministry were considering taking 10 gigawatts of coal capacity out of the market as part of the climate action programme the government is due to present on 3 December.

However, Gabriel has staunchly rejected the notion of a quick exit from coal in recent days, a position he reiterated in the TV interview on Sunday. He also repeated his view that coal would gradually lose importance and that a reform of Europe's emissions trading system was the best way to achieve climate goals.

The first draft of the action programme, leaked last week, focused on energy efficiency measures and did not detail actions in the energy sector.

German media reported that spokespeople from the environment ministry, which is in charge of the climate action programme together with the energy ministry, also rejected the reports of a change to the official target.

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