17 Sep 2018, 10:30
Sven Egenter

Report about coal exit plan causes stir ahead of commission meeting

A report about a proposal by one of Germany’s coal commission co-heads for a coal exit by 2038 has caused irritation. Some commission members were quick to reject the report and warned that the commission's work was in peril should individual members rush ahead. The media report will also weigh on the next commission meeting on 18 September. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters protested peacefully at Hambach Forest, scheduled to be cleared to make room for lignite mining, after police had started to remove protest camps from the site. [Adds comments from commission member Christine Herntier]

A media report about a proposal by one of Germany’s coal commission co-heads for a coal exit date has caused irritation among politicians and other commission members, some of whom rejected the report swiftly. Weekly magazine Der Spiegel reported that commission co-head Ronald Pofalla, a fromer top-aide of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and current board member at rail company Deutsch Bahn, had presented a compromise to the environment ministry and the chancellery after a series of talks with commission members. The proposal included an exit from coal-fired power generation between 2035 and 2038, Spiegel reporter Gerald Traufetter wrote. Pofalla also proposed taking 5-7 gigawatts of coal capacity off-line and into a security reserve by 2020, and revisiting the exit path by 2027. In order to support the affected regions, the proposal suggested to move parts of federal agencies there and boost investment in broadband internet and railways.

Coal commission member Christine Herntier, the mayor of a town in the lignite mining area of Lusatia, said in a newspaper interview that she will raise the issue of the media report at the commission's meeting on 18 September.  "My view is clear: We are a commission and it's most certainly not indivuduals who will determine the exit path," Herntier told the Lausitzer Rundschau, the paper based in the lignite mining region. It was "reckless" to give an end-date for coal at this stage. However, she cautioned not to put the commission in general at risk, rejecting calls from some trade union members to exclude co-chair Pofalla from the group.

Other coal commission members were quick to reject the dates and numbers, and voiced their irritation about the story. Greenpeace Germany managing director Martin Kaiser said via Twitter the commission had not even started talking about the speed of an exit, and there was certainly no agreement yet. The head of the influential miners’ union IG BCE, Michael Vassiliadis said in a statement that the “fragile trust” that had just started to build in the commission was put in peril if co-chair Pofalla was “juggling” exit dates that had not been agreed upon. “We expect a clarification by the chairs and the federal government that the publication is by no means a basis for the future work,” he said.

The commission has largely worked to find common ground on the factual basis for a coal exit since its start in June, and is due to meet next on September 18. The government has put the commission, made up of stakeholders such as regions affected, businesses, energy industry, researchers and environmental groups, in charge to draw up a plan for a coal exit, due by December, that includes the necessary measures to support the affected regions. The commission has become key for the government’s climate policy as the country of the Energiewende – a dual shift out of nuclear and fossil energy sources to renewables - has come under international criticism for the failure to meet its own climate targets.

Several top politicians from the affected states also warned against any predetermination before the commission’s talks progressed, business daily Handelsblatt and other publications reported. Environment minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) urged the commission members to avoid conducting business via the media. Lignite-mine and coal power plant operator RWE also rejected the reported dates and plans.

The commission’s work is currently overshadowed by a standoff between climate activists and energy company RWE over the scheduled clearing of Hambach Forest in the Western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia to make way for future lignite mining. On September 16, thousands of protesters gathered for "a walk in the forest", according to media reports. Police has started clearing protesters’ camps and tree houses over the past days amidst ongoing criticism by environmental groups, including those present in the coal commission, who urge RWE to wait with any clearing of the forest at least until the commission has finished its work.


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