Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday (Nov. 5) in the heart of German mining country to demand that Berlin make an immediate exit from fossil fuels. Mine operator RWE was forced to shut down its machinery as activists marched into Europe’s largest open-pit mine in Hambach, in the Rhineland, not far from Bonn, where almost 200 countries gathered today for the United Nation’s 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP) climate summit.
“Many of the international delegates coming to Bonn will rub their eyes once they realize that the COP is taking place near active lignite mines,” Annalena Baerbock, climate spokesperson of the Greens (a political party in Germany), told Clean Energy Wire. “I guess some of our guests will be fairly surprised to see just how much Germany still relies on coal.”
In 2015, around 42% of Germany’s electricity production came from coal and its dirtier cousin lignite, which is one reason the country is the highest producer of greenhouse gases in the EU. Germany’s own climate behavior could end up under the microscope thanks to the UN conference—but its dirty secrets are already out.
A September 2017 report from the environmental think-tank Agora Energiewende said (link in German) that the country is all but certain to miss its 2020 goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 40% of its 1990 levels. According to the report, by 2016, Germany had only got emissions down by 28% from 1990 levels, and if the country doesn’t make major changes soon, it will at best reach a 30% reduction by 2020.
“Clearly missing its 2020 climate protection goals would significantly damage Germany’s reputation,” the report notes. Germany spearheaded the Paris Climate Agreement and pressured other countries to work harder on climate protection at the G20 in Hamburg this year. The country, with its ambitious Energy Transition (Energiewende) plan to move to mainly renewable energy sources, has long been held up as a shining example of what to do right when it comes to climate change policy.
According to Agora, consistently low oil and gas prices, coupled with higher-than-expected economic and population growth are the main reasons Germany continues to be a high emitter of greenhouse gases.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, currently in the process of trying to form a three-way coalition government, is caught in the middle of the Greens, who want to see a complete exit from coal, and the Free Democrats, who think it’s not possible to phase out the fuel for years.
“Germany does not have pure national goals, they are an integral part of the common European effort,” Greens spokesperson Annalena Baerbock said. “That’s why missing the German 2020 and as a consequence the 2030 goal [the pan-Europe climate change mitigation targets] would be a disaster not only for Germany alone but for Europe as a whole.”