Germany phases out coal to help stabilize our climate

27/01/2019 - The Coal Commission established by the German government recommends to phase out coal - with an end date in the 2030s. It is highly likely that political decision-makers will act upon this recommendation now and indeed put an end-date to coal-use in the world's fourth biggest economy Germany. The Coal Commission consisted of representatives from industry, trade unions, environmental associations, and academia. Experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) were closely involved in the difficult negotiations. Physicist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, PIK's Director Emeritus, was a member of the Commission. PIK's acting Director and chief economist Ottmar Edenhofer had been invited to provide advice to the committee.
Germany phases out coal to help stabilize our climate

"Germany is finding its way back to the climate protection path: the beginning of an orderly phase-out of coal-fired power generation has been made. This is an important step on the road to the post-fossil age - a step that also opens up new perspectives for the affected regions through innovation-driven structural change," Schellnhuber said in a statement. "The fact that the consensus was difficult to achieve, however, should not be concealed. Efficiency in the implementation and best possible use of taxpayers' money should certainly also be the focus of the legislative processes that are now to follow."

More has to be done to achieve a just and safe transition

More has to be done, said Edenhofer. "It is necessary to take a second step on the road to stabilising our climate, now that the Coal Commission has taken an important first step. It is great that such a broad body, from industry to nature conservationists, has been able to agree to abandon coal. But it is only the necessary prerequisite, not yet sufficient, for substantially reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. However, some conservationists and quite a few business representatives share a tendency towards an unfortunately expensive planned economy. That is why we now need effective CO2 pricing in order to use market mechanisms to really secure the coal phase-out."

Edenhofer has been researching the coal issue intensively not just at PIK but also at the Mercator Research Institute, which he is heading. "A minimum price is conceivable in European emissions trading or in a pioneer coalition of Germany, France and the Netherlands," he stressed. "Smart CO2 pricing would also generate revenues with which the state can create more justice for all, instead of just making billions available for special interests."

To end the age of fingerpointing - and to limit weather extremes

Together with Edenhofer, the Earth system scientist Johan Rockström is director of PIK. Originally from Sweden and very active in various global networks, he highlights the international dimension of the German decision on coal. "The whole world is watching how Germany - a nation based on industry and engineering, the fourth largest economy on our planet - is taking the historic decision of phasing out coal. This could cascade globally, locking in the fastest energy transition in history."

"This can help end the age of fingerpointing, the age of too many governments saying: why should we act, if others don't? Germany is acting, even if the commission's decision is not flawless. Yet it is a key contribution to limit the the increasing risks of for instance extreme weather events accross the world," said Rockström. "To avoid crucial elements of the Earth system to tip, such as the huge ice sheets, we need social tipping points. Germany just passed one of these."

Weblink to the coal commission:

Weblink to Edenhofer et al climate plan and CO2 pricing:

Further links:

An assessment by climate economist and PIK Director Ottmar Edenhofer to the international news agency Associated Press.

An assessment by commission member Hans Joachim Schellnhubers in the German newspaper Handelsblatt.