BERLIN >> In a pioneering move, a government-appointed panel today recommended that Germany stop burning coal to generate electricity by 2038 at the latest, as part of efforts to curb climate change.
The so-called Coal Commission reached agreement in the early hours today, following months of wrangling that were closely watched by other coal-dependent countries.
“We made it,” Ronald Pofalla, the head of the commission, told reporters in Berlin. “This is a historic effort.”
Germany gets more than a third of its electricity from burning coal, generating large amounts of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The 28-member panel, representing mining regions, utility companies, scientists and environmentalists, suggests a review in 2032 could bring forward the deadline to 2035.
The plan foresees billions in federal funding to help affected regions cope with the economic impact, and to shield industry and consumers from higher electricity prices. The energy transition will also need a huge overhaul and modernization of the country’s power grid, the commission’s members said.
The decision still needs government approval.
“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,” said Johan Rockstroem, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. “This could cascade globally, locking in the fastest energy transition in history.”
The commission suggests that in the next ten years, the government should help create up to 5,000 new jobs in the affected regions when coal mining will be phased out. These regions — in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony — should also get federal subsidies totaling 40 million euros (45.6 million dollars) in the next twenty years.
“New jobs will be created through structural measures in the coal mining regions,” Pofalla said. “We will keep up secure and affordable energy supply and the agreement will lead to sustainable climate protection in Germany.”
Germany is committed to an “energy transition” that involves replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources such as solar and wind power. While the country has made great strides in that direction — renewables beat coal for the first time last year — removing coal from the power equation entirely is a major challenge.
The reduction in coal will have to be compensated by an increase in renewable power sources, which already generated more than coal last year, and — at least in the interim — from burning more natural gas, which emits about half the amount of greenhouse gases as coal.
Greenpeace, which wants all coal plants shut down by 2030, welcomed that “Germany finally has a timetable how the country can become coal-free,” but said the measures were not ambitious and fast enough.
“The speed is wrong,” said Martin Kaiser, the head of Greenpeace. “Exiting coal by the year 2038 only is inacceptable.”
An opinion poll released by public broadcaster ZDF found that 73 percent of Germans agree a quick exit from coal is very important. The telephone poll of 1,285 people, conducted Jan. 22-24, had a margin of error of about three percentage points.