In DepthCLIMATE POLICY

Can Germany engineer a coal exit?

Science  29 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6272, pp. 430-431
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6272.430

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Summary

Germany's coal-fired power plants, which provide nearly half of the nation's electricity, are posing a major challenge to its plans for an Energiewende—a shift to an energy system that will cut national greenhouse gas emissions by 80% to 95% by 2050. Many experts say achieving that goal will require the nation to phase out its coal plants—but the question of how and when that might happen has been contentious. Now, in the wake of the Paris climate pact, the debate is heating up. A prominent think tank has released a report concluding that Germany could abandon coal by 2040, and Germany's environment minister says that she will soon unveil a plan for reaching the 2050 emissions goal. Many observers expect it to include a coal exit timeline. But Germany's vice chancellor, as well as major labor and industry groups, are pushing back, fearing job losses and energy market disruptions—and predicting that a solo German move could simply shift emissions to other nations.

  • * Christopher Schrader is a writer in Hamburg, Germany.