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New Commission Studies ‘Unprecedented’, Orderly Coal Phaseout for Germany

A new commission investigating a coal phaseout plan for Germany has received only limited international attention, but could be “the biggest story that no one is talking about” in energy, Greentech Media reports, citing Justin Guay of the San Francisco-based ClimateWorks Foundation.

“The mandate that this commission has been given is really amazing,” said Guay, the foundation’s director of clean air and clean energy. “We’re talking about the leading industrial powerhouse of Europe deciding they’re going to phase out coal in an orderly fashion by a certain date. It’s unprecedented.”

With 46,000 employees as recently as 2015, “the future of Germany’s coal industry was a major agenda item in the tortuous negotiations that preceded the formation of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s latest coalition government,” Greentech notes. The 30-member German Coal Commission was set up to “help Germany give up coal generation without causing strife”. It’s expected to issue a jobs report in October, followed by a second document on the country’s emission reduction obligations ahead of the 2018 UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland.

Germany’s interest in even considering a phaseout is significant in itself, Guay told GTM. But research has already shown the country can’t meet its Paris targets without mothballing coal plants, “so the second report is widely expected to contain a timetable of closures.” There’s already wide agreement that 10 gigawatts of capacity will have to be shuttered in the near future, while some German utilities “have accepted the reality of closures and are calculating the amount of compensation they might be due.

While no date for a full phaseout has been set, Greentech says climate advocates are calling for a 2030 deadline. The eventual target is expected to be legislated next year.

In practical terms, the date and the act of phasing out coal will have virtually no impact on climate change, since Germany’s 46 gigawatts of coal-based generation only represent about 2% of the world’s total,” GTM notes. “But even with the industry on the wane, a German coal phaseout could send a powerful signal to other coal-heavy economies,” just as the country’s earlier nuclear phaseout delivered a wider message.

“It doesn’t matter where you look,” Guay said. “There is no other policy vehicle, no other open, national-level conversation that is anywhere near as important as what’s happening in Germany.”