The inadequate in pursuit of the out-of-date: Germany’s coal exit must be revised by 2020

Date
01 February 2019

Germany’s Coal Commission has ignored essential review guidelines of the national climate targets with regard to the Paris Agreement. The commission’s plan must be revised already by 2020, alongside the EU’s and Germany’s targets.
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The sun is not setting on Germany's coal soon enough. Coal mine shaft in Herten, North Rhein-Westphalia, Germany ©Daniel Mennerich CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

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The recommendation to keep burning coal for electricity in Germany until 2038, put foward by the government-appointed commission, was met with wide and well-founded criticism for being out of step with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C – something Germany has agreed to do by ratifying the Paris Agreement.  Being Paris-compatible, however, was never its mandate. The Commission’s plan refers solely to Germany’s Climate Action Plan 2050, adopted in 2016. This plan in its current version builds on the previously agreed 2030 emission reduction target (at least 55% by 2030 relative to 1990) and includes a corresponding 2030 target for the energy sector: a reduction of 61-62% by 2030 relative to 1990.

These targets are not in line with the requirements of the Paris Agreement, a fact explicitly recognised in the Plan, which states that the EU’s 2030 target, and thus Germany’s overall 2030 target, will have to be reviewed and updated “in light of the long-term targets of the Paris Agreement”(See page 23). The Climate Action Plan 2050 revision cycle is explicitly linked to the Paris Agreement ratcheting up cycle – with the first revision by the end 2019/beginning of 2020 at the latest (See page 78).

Ignoring these review cycles in the coal commission’s mandate, process and final report, and instead using a non-Paris compatible 2030 target as benchmark, is a fundamental flaw of the process.

The commission’s proposal comes at a critical time for the EU and global climate protection. Current emission reduction pledges are vastly insufficient to achieve Paris Agreement goals and would lead to a warming of 3°C or more by the end of the century. In its landmark report, the IPCC states with ‘high confidence’ that pathways with insufficient emissions reductions until 2030, like the one proposed by the commission, would lock out limiting warming to 1.5°C.<

In light of the need for global action, the European Union is in the spotlight. Several EU member states have already committed to increasing ambition and, among those with a phase out target for coal, no country has set a date later than 2030. At the same time, the EU parliament has called for a strengthening of the European 2030 target from 40% to 55% in line with pursuing the 1.5°C limit of the Paris Agreement. What’s more, the EU is taking steps towards setting a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and recently presented a strategic long-term vision. This is in line with the greenhouse gas neutrality target in Germany’s Climate Action Plan 2050.

Scaling up emission cutting measures on the EU level is in full swing and, according to its mandate, the German climate action plan will need to be revised accordingly.

The coal commission’s timetable must reflect these ongoing reviews and it’s recommendation to first revisit the coal phase-out plan in 2023 is insufficient. Rather, it is clear that the German coal phase out plan needs to be revised in line with any updates of the EU and national climate targets to come forward by 2020.