07 Jun 2018, 00:00
Sören Amelang Julian Wettengel

Reactions to Germany's official launch of coal exit task force

Germany has launched official talks to phase out coal power in a bid to cut greenhouse gas emissions that have remained stubbornly high despite the country’s shift to renewable power. The Clean Energy Wire collects reactions from environmental groups, commission members, and industry associations. [UPDATE 7 June: Adds brown coal industry (DEBRIV) and Baerbock (Green Party)]

Commission members

Katherina Reiche, head of the German Association of Local Utilities (VKU)

„The tasks can only be mastered with strong actors from the energy sector that know the regions and structures, feel responsible for employees, and offer new prospects. Supply security and the competitiveness of Germany’s economy must be maintained at the highest level. Decentralised generation facilities with climate-friendly combined heat and power production and the respective infrastructure play a key role.”


Kai Niebert, president of the German League for Nature and Environment (DNR):

“The game of hide and seek in climate policy is now over. The limited CO2 budget is a peculiarity of the climate system that cannot be negotiated by any commission. Our remaining CO2 budget shrinks with every single tonne of coal we burn. Only a rapid exit path can prevent a dramatic failure of Germany’s climate ambitions.”


Hubert Weiger, head of Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND):

“The commission will become a success if it fulfils its climate policy mandate. This demands an ambitious entry into the coal exit and a rapid, but socially acceptable, phasing out of coal power generation. But we’re not available for fig leaf events in the name of climate policy. As a sign of the seriousness of discussions, we now expect the omission of new facts in favour of coal. This applies to new power stations and opencast mines.”


Martin Kaiser, executive director of Greenpeace:

“The gap in the German climate target for 2020 needs to be closed by rapidly switching off coal power plants. That’s what we will fight for in the commission.”


Felix Matthes, research coordinator at the Institute of Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut):

“The central task ahead is to design the inevitable exit from coal power generation in a way that intelligently combines the demands of ambitious climate protection, and the interests of those who are directly or indirectly affected. It’s important for the global survival issue of climate protection that Germany can once again increasingly serve as an example of successful Energiewende strategies.”


Eric Schweitzer, German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK):

“I believe my central task is to focus the commission’s attention on the economic repercussions and the regional prospects of chambers of commerce organisations […] One thing is clear: a faster lignite exit translates into less time for the regions to develop alternatives.”


Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK):

“It’s unusual that such a fateful decision about the future path of a modern industrial society is set to be made not by governmental decree, but through discourse and reasonable compromise. If this succeeds, Germany’s political culture will emerge as a big winner. The other [winner] will, of course, be climate protection, where the urgency is highlighted increasingly by extreme weather events every day. As a scientist on the commission, I will especially make clear that a hesitant coal exit would be punished by the laws of physics.”


Michael Vassiliadis, head of the mining union IG BCE:

“The people in the mining regions do not need an accelerated exit from coal,” said Vassiliadis. The path for a phase out of coal-fired power generation has long been mapped out. “What they need is an entry into structural change that secures good industrial work. That’s what we will work towards in the commission.”

The German energy industry carries the heaviest burden regarding CO₂ savings in Germany, said Vassiliadis. “If we tighten the thumbscrews even more in this sector, it will have painful consequences for the entire domestic industry, and it will cost jobs.”


Stefan Kapferer, head of the energy industry association BDEW:

“Besides climate protection and regional structural policy, taking into account the effects on a secure power supply and the affordability of electricity is decisive in our view. It’s also essential that any solution agreed in the commission meets energy economy needs, and does not infringe the ownership rights of the affected companies.” To be able to further reduce coal power even after the last nuclear power station goes offline in 2022, the conditions for the construction and operation of gas power plants, cogeneration plants, storages, and other flexibility options must be improved now, writes the BDEW in a press release.


Dieter Kempf, president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI):

“The commission must use the chance for a change of course in climate policy. A realistic policy, which does equal justice to climate protection and profitability, is necessary. […] It would be disastrous if the commission solely concentrated on a symbolic exit from coal-fired power generation. Germany must quickly get on a holistic path to modernise our economy in a climate-friendly way, instead of betting on single technologies.”


Other reactions

Thorsten Diercks, director Federal German Association for Brown Coal (DEBRIV):

“The government’s ‘Commission on Growth, Structural Economic Change and Employment’ must not become a coal exit commission, nor an uncritical trailblazer for a national climate protection act,” according to DEBRIV. “It has become evident already that the security of Germany’s power supply can’t be guaranteed by 2022/23 at the latest,” said director Thorsten Diercks. “The lignite industry expects that the 2030 EU climate target of cutting emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels is compatible with a continued use of domestic brown coal by the German economy according to current plans and prospects for the mining regions,” DEBRIV said. The association said German lignite plants are only responsible for about 0.4 percent of global CO2 emissions. “Even with a total loss of this power production, the climate effect of a coal exit would only amount to 0.1 or 0.2 percent at best,” said Diercks. “Existing government and company plans make it possible and realistic to reduce CO2 emissions within the framework of the European ETS by a total of 87 percent by 2050 – without additional national regulatory measures that are compensable, by the way.” This is why the German lignite industry’s mines and power stations should go through with existing company and federal state plans, DEBRIV says.


Annalena Baerbock, Green Party co-leader:

“The coal commission’s mandate is nowhere near enough. The commission now has the difficult task of outgrowing this mandate. Neither the climate, nor the regions’ affected residents can afford a never ending story. We need prospects for employees and the regions, and rapid measures to reach 2020 climate targets. Switching off coal power plans quickly will be part of this. The debate within the commission must not become an excuse for the government to no longer decide anything on climate protection. It has the political responsibility to initiate concrete steps so we can reach our climate targets after all.”  


Utz Tillmann, association of energy-intensive industries (EID):

“The conservatives and the SPD have promised in their coalition treaty to preserve the competitiveness of the energy/intensive industries. This must be reflected in the measures developed by the commission on structural economic change.”


Andreas Kuhlmann, German Energy Agency (dena):

“The start of the commission will put the urgently needed discussion about the Energiewende’s employment and growth opportunities, and about the risks, back on the agenda. The associated questions are key, because the energy transition and climate protection will only be successful if a vast majority of people in the country see good prospects for themselves and their children.”


Stefanie Langkamp, Climate Alliance Germany:

“The commission's mandate is not compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement: a reduction of energy sector emissions by up to 62 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 is not enough to make a sufficient contribution by this sector to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees, or even 1.5 degrees, Celsius.”

“It’s a step in the right direction that the commission takes into account the prospects of those affected by opencast mining, who are the first to experience the negative effects of lignite mining. The meaningless and irreversible destruction of villages, cultural goods, and the environment must come to an end.”


Simone Peter, head of the German Renewable Energy Federation (BEE):

“We expect a coal exit plan, which takes into account the 2020 climate target as much as the targets for 2030 and the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement. […] The coal exit plan must be complemented by a master plan for 100 percent renewable energies to meet the needs of a modern, climate-friendly, and flexible energy system.” Both an accelerated expansion of renewable energies – taking into consideration the integration of the power, heating, and transport sectors, and storage solutions – and an ambitious coal exit based on a power plant shut-down plan is needed, Peter added.


Christoph Bals, policy director at Germanwatch:

“The coal exit is aligned with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and has the potential to be the foundation for a fair structural change and a modernisation of the economy. One hopes that the economic associations involved do not obstruct, but put the opportunities front and centre.”


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