Potsdam experts in the German Coal Commission

07/13/2018 - The coal commission established by Germany’s Federal Government is seeking input from, amongst others, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. This Friday, the chief economist and director designate of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Ottmar Edenhofer, gave a presentation in the panel. The focus was on the possibilities of a rapid reduction of greenhouse gases in the German energy system, to stabilize our climate. The acting Director and founder of PIK, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, is a full member of the 'Commission for Growth, Structural Change and Employment' – the official name of the committee –, and will be one of those to decide on its outcome at the end of the year.
Potsdam experts in the German Coal Commission
Power lines. Photo: thinkstock

"Germany has by far the highest CO2 emissions from coal in the European Union - they are twice as high as in Poland," explains Edenhofer. Germany is no longer a climate pioneer, countries such as Great Britain or France, but also Sweden and Austria, are noticeably more successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions - and thus in reducing the risks of climate change. "In the Paris Agreement, however, our government committed itself to play its part in limiting global warming to well below two degrees - so concrete measures are now needed to achieve this goal," said Edenhofer. He is one of the leading scientists at E-Navi, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research's major energy turn research project; he also heads the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change.

From the economist's point of view, the easiest and most cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions is in electricity generation. "That is why a rapid phase-out of coal-fired power generation is a very sensible option for climate policy," emphasizes Edenhofer. If emissions were not saved in the particularly emission-intensive burning of coal, this would have to be done elsewhere in order to meet the climate targets. "Then, for example, the necessary emission reductions would have to be achieved more quickly in industry, which would be considerably more difficult and expensive," said the scientist.

However, a German coal phase-out must be accompanied by a strengthening of European emissions trading, explains Edenhofer. If hard coal were removed from the system in Germany, more electricity from lignite could be sold in Europe. To prevent this, a European minimum price in emissions trading was necessary. According to Edenhofer, CO2 pricing generates income that could be used for redistribution or for the development of infrastructure. "In any case, this would also be of interest to finance ministers." And: "The revenues could compensate the losers of the coal phase-out. This would increase the social acceptance of the coal phase-out."

Weblink to Coal Commission: https://www.bmu.de/en/report/7918/

Weblink to E-Navi project: https://www.kopernikus-projekte.de/en/projects/system-integration