Speaking at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for world leaders to produce a landmark agreement to ensure that the rise in global temperatures remains under 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.
In demanding an international agreement “which is ambitious, which is comprehensive, which is fair and which is binding,” Ms. Merkel highlighted Germany’s own “ambitious climate protection package comprising more than 100 measures” and “clear targets” for reducing its carbon-dioxide emissions 40 percent by 2020 and 80 to 95 percent by 2050.
“Additional climate protection instruments are required at the national level.”
“Renewables are already the central plank in our energy mix. This year, they will account for more than 27 percent,” Ms. Merkel said.
But despite the chancellor’s aspirations and the country’s notable support of renewable energy resources, coal remains king in Germany. It accounts for 43 percent of German power generation, including 25 percent from black coal and 18 percent from lignite, or brown coal.
Moreover, according to a new study released Monday, Germany will not meet its carbon reduction targets unless it slashes its coal-fired generation 60 percent by 2030 and shutters its still substantial coal fleet completely by 2040.
Commissioned by Berlin-based think tank Agora Energiewende, a group focused on Germany’s energy transition, the report produced by Enervis Energy Advisors makes clear that unless Germany achieves this exit from coal, all other instruments of climate protection, including the Europe’s emissions trading scheme, will not suffice to keep global warming in check.
“Additional climate protection instruments are required at the national level,” according to the report.
“A consensus over the long-term strategy for a coal exit and the related structural change is therefore imperative,” said Patrick Graichen, director of Agora Energiewende.
The report’s conclusions coincide with German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks’ recent call for a coal exit plan. Ms. Hendricks, a Social Democrat, said Germany must set a goal to exit coal in the next 20 to 25 years, or by 2040 at the latest.
Predictably, climate protection advocates unanimously supported Germany’s closure of coal plants, while conventional electric utilities are largely skeptical. They fear the impact both on electricity prices and reliability if Germany were to exit coal too quickly.
After all, despite the expansion of renewable energy resources, solar and wind power plants generate electricity only intermittently: when the sun shines and the wind blows. Absent sufficient electrical energy storage capabilities, fossil fuel power plants remain indispensable for now.
German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel has steered away from any talk over eliminating coal from Germany’s power supply. The ministry, which is concerned with energy affordability and security in addition to climate protection, is unaware of any actual government plans for a coal exit, according to a spokesperson.
Behind closed doors, however, German politicians concede the need for discussions over a coal exit strategy, in order to take climate goals seriously.
But, as Ms. Merkel’s reluctance to discuss the matter in Paris showed, that’s a debate for another time. And if climate projections are correct, there’s not much time left to lose.
At the climate talks in Paris, European leaders appear to be at odds with U.S. President Barack Obama over the question of just how binding a global climate agreement would be. Europeans want “an agreement binding under international law,” according to Ms. Hendricks. Mr. Obama, however, does not want an agreement that would require congress’ unlikely approval.
As a result, the negotiating parties in Paris are attempting to reach a binding agreement that adheres to national laws in the way it is implemented.
In other words, there may be no escaping the difficult national discussions ahead, despite the best intentions of world leaders in Paris to achieve results now.