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Scientists for Future: Major deficits of the planned coal phase-out law KVBG-E

Deutsche Fassung

26.06.2020 – The German government plans to pass the law on the coal phase-out before the parliamentary summer recess. In view of the agreements of the Paris Climate Protection Agreement and the increasing urgency to take effective measures, the draft of the coal phase-out law has the following major shortcomings:

Internationally agreed climate protection targets cannot be met

In order to meet the internationally agreed climate protection targets, it is critical that Germany does not exceed its overall carbon budget. A justifiable CO2 budget for Germany in terms of climate physics and distribution ethics is around 6.7 Gt CO2 (SRU 2020). To protect the climate effectively and as quickly as possible, measures with low avoidance costs and very high savings effects must be particularly prioritized and taken. A quick coal phase-out is much easier and economically more favourable than the reduction of greenhouse gases in other sectors, e.g. the transport sector or the steel or cement industry. An economically compatible reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that is compatible with international climate protection goals can only be achieved by phasing out coal by around 2030 (Parra et al. 2019; Oei et al. 2020a). A delayed coal phase-out, which nevertheless maintains a Paris-compatible CO2 budget, would only be possible if coal-based electricity generation were to be reduced by up to 2/3 in the next legislative period (SRU 2017). 

The foreseeable tightening of the European climate protection targets – from a 40% reduction to a50% reduction or even a 55% reduction by 2030 – would also entail a proportional tightening of targets in Germany as well, or it would at least be demanded (Hainsch et al. 2020). If Germany does not proportionally support this strengthening of targets, other EU states would have to achieve higher reductions, as the EU as a whole has committed itself to the Paris climate protection targets.

Numerous studies show that a faster coal phase-out by 2030 would be possible (e.g. Oei et al. 2019, Kittel et al. 2020, Oei et al. 2020c).  Given this possibility of a faster phase-our, Verheyen (2020) concludes that the „reduction path of the Federal Government – laid down in the Climate Protection Act and the KVBG-E [Coal Completion Act] is not sufficient from the perspective of international law and fundamental rights“.

Moreover, there is a broad majority in the German society in favour of the internationally agreed climate protection targets. Two thirds of German households are in favour of the coal phase-out (IASS, 2020). And voters would prefer a faster coal phase-out by 2030 instead of  a later phase-out date (Rinscheid & Wüstenhagen, 2019). 

The coal phase-out can be made cheaper and more effective than envisaged in the draft law

In the first six months of this year, coal accounted for only about 20 percent of Germany’s net electricity generation. Nevertheless, it still accounted for 29 percent in 2019, and as much as 37 percent in 2018. It can be seen that the expansion of renewable energies, favourable gas prices and increased prices for emission certificates are strongly pushing out coal-fired power generation even without a phase-out law and without compensation payments for economic reasons alone (AG Energiebilanzen, 2020a, 2020b, 2020c, Fraunhofer ISE 2020).

In order to comply with the Paris Climate Protection Agreement, the expansion of photovoltaics and wind power in Germany must be multiplied. In the case of photovoltaics, for example, a five-fold increase in the annual newly installed capacity must be achieved. This would also create around 200,000 new sustainable jobs, while the lignite phase-out would only affect around 18,500 jobs (DIW Berlin, Wuppertal Institute, Ecologic Institute. 2018). With such a rapid expansion of photovoltaics, however, it will no longer be economically feasible to continue operating coal-fired power plants in just a few years. Therefore, a protracted coal phase-out will also prevent the expansion of renewable energies necessary for climate protection.

The compensation payments are not legally binding 

In an expert opinion commissioned by the BMU on the necessity of compensation payments, Schomerus and Franßen (2018) conclude that a coal phase-out law is not equivalent to expropriation worthy of compensation, but rather is more of a determination of content and limits. This does not give rise to a claim for compensation payments. However, the experts recommend transitional and hardship provisions. In its paper on the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants, the German Bundestag’s Scientific Service (2018) comes to the conclusion that there is no general right to be exempted from new statutory regulations until investments have been fully amortised once made. This has not been taken into account in the current draft of the coal phase-out law.

There is no energy-economic necessity for further forced resettlements 

Residential areas in the lignite mining areas are particularly affected by the current plans to phase out coal. In fact, there is no energy-economic necessity to destroy further villages for the extraction of lignite and to resettle people against their will. The planned law, however, unfoundedly attributes such an energy-economic necessity to the Garzweiler II open-cast mine – even though a sufficient amount of coal can be extracted without further resettlement in the Garzweiler-Hambach open-cast mine complex which contains over 700 million tonnes (Oei et al. 2020b). 

In order to comply with a greenhouse gas budget calculated for Germany, which corresponds to a limitation of global warming to a maximum of 1.75 degrees Celsius, only a maximum of 280 million tonnes of lignite may be extracted from the Hambach and Garzweiler II opencast mines from January 2020 onwards. The current plans of the German government and RWE envisage the continuation of coal-fired power generation until 2038. This will result in the burning of 630 million tonnes of lignite, which is much more than what is permissible to meet the internationally agreed climate protection targets, but still feasible without further relocation (Oei et al. 2020b, see also SRU 2020).

Sufficient coal reserves are also accessible in other lignite mining areas without the need to destroy further villages. This concerns the imminent and unnecessary resettlement in the Lusatian coal mining district, in the Mühlrose open-cast mine field of Nochten 2, and in the Central German coal mining district, the village of Pödelwitz, whose continued existence is threatened by the United Schleenhain open-cast mine (DIW, Wuppertal Institute, Ecologic 2018; Federal Environment Agency 2019).

Fossil gas is only of limited use as a transitional technology

As part of the coal phase-out, the German government plans to provide financial support for the conversion from reliance on coal-fired to gas-fired power plants. For example, a new gas-fired power plant is planned at the Jänschwalde site. However, fossil gas-fired power plants – including the emissions from raw material extraction and transport – lead to a level of greenhouse gas emissions that is not compatible with the goal of achieving climate neutrality (Hainsch et al. 2020). Instead of providing financial support for new gas-fired power plants, the expansion of renewable energies would need to markedly increase. Depending on the legal regulations, this is possible even without state subsidies. Several studies conclude that the supply of electricity and heat from renewable energy sources can be guaranteed for Germany and Europe (e.g. Bartholdtsen et al. 2019). Löffler et al. (2019) demonstrate in this context that if the switch to renewable energies is accelerated, additional gas-fired power plants will become „stranded assets“, which is inconsistent with prior subsidisation by tax money.

Current Links

Official website of the German Bundestag with the planned course of the session and links to the draft laws: www.bundestag.de/dokumente/textarchiv/2020/kw27-de-kohleausstieg-701804  (last accessed on 25.6.2020) 

Draft law on the reduction and termination of coal-fired power generation and on the amendment of other laws (coal phase-out law). Publication 24.02.2020 https://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/19/173/1917342.pdf (last accessed on 25.6.2020)

Public-law contract for the reduction and termination of lignite-based electricity generation in Germany. (Part of the draft coal phase-out law in §42). (pdf generated on 23.6.2020) https://www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/DE/Downloads/M-O/oeffentlich-rechtlicher-vertrag-zur-reduzierung-und-beendigung-der-braunkohleverstromung-entwurf.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=4 (last accessed on 25.6.2020) 

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