Germany Divided Over Future of Coal – by Rachel Knaebel (Equal – May 11, 2015)

On 25 April, 6000 people formed a human chain stretching over seven kilometres in the Rhineland mining area in western Germany to protest against the role of coal in the country.

At the same time, in Berlin, 15,000 people were taking part in a demonstration called by the mining sector union IG BCE.

They were protesting against the proposal of the German Minister for Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel, to introduce an extra tax on the country’s oldest coal power plants.

The objective: to reduce Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions. Berlin has committed to reducing CO2 emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. To achieve this, Germany’s coal power plants need to do their bit, according to the ministry.

Environmental associations agree, and they see the proposal as a first step towards a coal phase-out, following on from the nuclear phase-out to be completed by 2022.

With 27 per cent of its electricity produced from renewable energies, Germany is one of the most advanced European states in terms of green energy.

“We are making progress with the energy transition but, at the same time, we are still dependent on coal. It is clearly contradictory,” criticises Dirk Jansen of the environmental group Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND), in an interview with Equal Times.

“And coal that is primarily produced for export. We don’t need it for our own domestic consumption.”

But coal has the advantage of being massively available in Germany’s subsoil. There are three large lignite coal mines still operating in the country.

Some of its opencast mines are expected to remain in operation until 2045. “Lignite is the number one climate killer. No other type of fuel produces CO2 emissions as high as this one. It is outdated technology; it has no place in the 21st century,” insists Jansen.

“There is no greater attack on nature, on our landscapes, our groundwater and our social structures than lignite. Entire villages are destroyed and thousands of people displaced so that it can be extracted.”

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