'A policy from a parallel universe'

| 14th November 2019
Tagebau Garzweiler strip mine, Germany. Photo: Bert Kaufmann (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Tagebau Garzweiler strip mine, Germany. The mining is moving westward and has crossed the Autobahn 44 between the A46 and Jackerath. Beyond are the RWE power plants Grevenbroich-Frimmersdorf and -Neurath, which use most of the coal from Garzweiler I and II. Photo: Bert Kaufmann (CC BY-SA 2.0).
ClientEarth responds to Germany’s leaked draft of coal phase-out law.


Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have criticised a leak of Germany’s draft coal phase-out law as put together by the Ministry for Economic Affairs, calling it out of touch and piecemeal, and lambasting the failure to tie it to climate protection goals.

Prof. Dr. Hermann Ott, Head of ClientEarth – Anwälte der Erde, said: “The long-awaited draft of Germany’s phase-out law is a shambles. The policy is riddled with unanswered questions, guarantees an unacceptably tardy coal exit and fails completely to acknowledge how urgently we need to decarbonise to address climate change.

“Those writing the policy seem to be existing in a parallel universe where coal is still profitable, people aren’t being forced out of their homes for mining, and the climate catastrophe isn’t unfolding around us."

'Incoherent policymaking'

Ott continued: “We are still faced with the total failure to tackle the phase-out of lignite, the most polluting form of coal, suggesting that Germany is still in thrall to vast energy companies which are still expanding mines and committing major rights infringements.

“And far from a logical approach to securing energy as coal is phased out, we’re actually seeing obstacles to renewable energy growth, which puts the entire phase-out at risk.

“Germany is one of Europe’s leading economies, and it is embarrassing to see such totally incoherent policymaking at a time we’ve never needed strong, solid climate action more.”

Key issues 

The main reason Germany’s ‘Coal Commission’ was formed was to decide how to manage a coal phase-out to cut carbon emissions in order to protect the climate. But this rationale is not made explicit in the law as it stands – and without climate protection as a guiding principle, the law is much less likely to perform against its intended objectives.

The leaked law contains provisions on how to phase out the first Gigawatts (GW) of hard coal to 2026 via tender procedures. If these do not reach the intended GW reduction, no possibility of state-enforced closures is planned in the law, which puts the phase-out path at risk entirely.

The law leaves the GW-reduction path for hard coal for the period from 2027 to 2038 (or earlier) to be determined by a future government by 2022. The already late end date of 2038 will only be assessed for the first time in 2032; earlier assessments by an expert committee, according to the draft, would only result in recommendations to the government and no commitments.

The draft law still needs to pass the cabinet next Monday and only then will pass on to the parliament, but presumably not before the end of this year. The law also does not yet contain any details on how the phase-out of lignite in Germany will take place, which is extremely bad news for those in Germany who stand to lose their villages for coal mining.

The leaked draft of the coal phase-out law contains changes to many other laws, too, among them a provision in construction law that in the future would limit the expansion of wind energy considerably.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from ClientEarth. 

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