The German Coal Commission was meant to provide a road map on how Germany will phase out coal. It has officially recommended that Germany phase out coal by 2038.
Established in June 2018, the “Coal Commission” (officially named the Commission for Growth, Structural Change and Work, which says something about its priorities) aims to create a roadmap for a German coal phaseout. The group consists of 28 local and national policy makers, trade unions, business associations and community leaders.
The German Coal Commission has recommended that Germany completely phase out coal by the year 2038. However, it has left the possibility open for a phaseout by 2035: in 2032, the government should reassess whether coal can be abandoned by that date.
The phaseout will begin soon: by 2022, not only will Germany shut down all of its nuclear power, but it will also shut down 12.4 gigawatts of energy from coal-powered plants. By 2030, there should only be 8GW of hard coal and 9GW of lignite power remaining.
The Coal Commission has also recommended that the Hambach Forest should not be cleared to make room for lignite mining, in a victory for anti-coal activists. Likewise, it recommends that no new coal plants be constructed (for economic reasons, it seems likely that the remaining plants would never go online in any case).
Overall, the Coal Commission’s recommendations seem to contradict German public opinion. One day before the Commission recommended a slow coal phaseout, the Spiegel found that 73% of Germans found it very important to phase out coal as soon as possible.
About the Coal Commission
The main issue revolves around how the coal communities can revitalize and find new economic opportunities for the time when coal mines and plants are shut down. For this purpose, the commission has a 1.5 billion euro budget through 2021 (for reference, there are only about 30,000 people working in the coal industry in Germany). The German government has prioritized stability over change, and labor union leaders and industry have firmly positioned themselves against a coal phaseout – of the 28 members, only about ten can be described as anti-coal.
The divide in the coal commission is partly geographical – states where mining and coal are important to for their economies (Brandenburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Saxony) have blocked the Commission’s report from being released. Joining them on the anti-phaseout side are local mayors and politicians especially from Lausitz, a brown coal region in the former east. Likewise, the coal industry has lobbied strongly against the phaseout, as has the union for mining and chemical workers IG BCE. Some members of the SPD and CDU/CSU are skeptical of a fast coal phaseout, while the AfD denies that climate change exists (and most likely hopes to pick up votes in the next election in coal regions).
Who is on the German Coal Commission?
The German Coal Commission includes 28 members with voting rights.
Leaders of the Commission (4):
- Matthias Platzeck: a former SPD politician who has called phasing out lignite“energy political suicide”
- Ronald Pofalla: works for the Deutsche Bahn, former CSU politician
- Barbara Praetorius: former head of the think tank Agora Energiewende and the only leader of the commission with energy expertise
- Stanislaw Tillich: former Minister of Saxony and CDU politician
Industry members (7):
- Steffen Kampeter: head of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations or BDA (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände). He is a former CDU politician.
- Stefan Kapferer is a lobbyist for the Energy and Water Group or BDEW (Bundesverbands der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft). He is a member of the FDP.
- Dieter Kempf is president of the interest group for the Federation of German Industries BDI (Bundesverbands der Deutschen Industrie (BDI).
- Claudia Nemat works for Telekom (Europe’s largest telecommunications network). She was trained as a physicist and worked for 17 years at the consultancy firm McKinsey.
- Katherina Reiche is head of the VKU, an association for local public utilities (Verbands Kommunaler Unternehmen). She is a former CDU politician and worked in the Transportation Ministry.
- Gunda Röstel is a former Green Party politician and advises the energy utility EnBW.
- Eric Schweitzer is president of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce or DIHT (Deutschen Industrie- und Handelskammertags) and a former FDP member.
- Christiane Schönefeld works for the Federal Employment Agency of Germany in NRW.
- Felix Matthes studied engineering and political science and works for the Öko-Institute, a green think tank. He has repeatedly stated that coal must be phased out.
- Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Center and is one of the most respected climate scientists worldwide.
- Annekatrin Niebuhr is a Professor of empirical labor market research and econometrics at the University of Kiel.
- Ralf B. Wehrspohn is head of the Frauenhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems (IMWS) and an expert in physics.
Environmental organizations (3):
- Martin Kaiser works for Greenpeace and is a trained geologist and forest engineer.
- Hubert Weiger is head and co-founder of Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND, or Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland); he has expressed his hope for compromise despite differences in the commission.
- Kai Niebert is president of the the association of German environmental associations called the “Deutscher Naturschutzring” (DNR).
Union representatives (3):
- Michael Vassiliadis represents workers from the coal industry: he is head of the industrial union for mining, chemicals and energy or “IG BCE” (Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie). Vassiliadis is a member of the SPD and is focused on maintaining well-paid jobs and creating sustainable structural change.
- Andreas Scheidt is a member of the SPD and advisor to the energy utility Eon. He is also a member of the German United Services Trade Union (Verdi for short).
- Stefan Körzell is an SPD member and works for the German Trade Union Confederation “DGB” (Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbund).
Lignite region representatives: (5)
- Antje Grothus is a reprsentative of the people impacted by lignite in the Rhein region, and has stated that no new permits for mining or power plants should be given during the Coal Commision’s work.
- Hannelore Wodtke is a member of the CDU and the initiative “Green Future Welzow” and is fighting for a coal exit in her region of Lusatia (in German, Lausitz).
- Christine Herntier is the mayor of Spremberg, a city in Brandenburg which has experienced a major economic transition (it was a part of the former German Democratic Republic and faced many factor closures after the wall fell).
- Michael Kreuzberg is a CDU politician and former mayor of Brühl, and has many years of experience as a politician in the former coal region of NRW.
- Reiner Priggen is an engineer and green politician who was active in NRW politics and the LEE NRW, an interest group for renewable energy in the region (Landesverband Erneuerbare Energien Nordrhein-Westfalen).
- Gerda Hasselfeldt is the president of the German Red Cross and a CSU politician, who served as financial policy leader for the German Congress among other positions.
In addition, there are three politicians who have no vote in the coal commission: Andreas Lämmel (CDU), Andreas Lenz (CSU) and Matthias Miersch (SPD).