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Press release: 12 November 2019
Berlin — A leak of Germany’s draft coal phase-out law as put together by the Ministry for Economic Affairs emerged today. Environmental lawyers ClientEarth have criticised the text, calling it out of touch and piecemeal, and lambasting the failure to tie it to climate protection goals.
Prof. Dr. Hermann Ott, Head of ClientEarth – Anwälte der Erde, said: “The long-awaited draft of Germany’s phase-out law is a shambles. The policy is riddled with unanswered questions, guarantees an unacceptably tardy coal exit and fails completely to acknowledge how urgently we need to decarbonise to address climate change.
“Those writing the policy seem to be existing in a parallel universe where coal is still profitable, people aren’t being forced out of their homes for mining, and the climate catastrophe isn’t unfolding around us.
“We are still faced with the total failure to tackle the phase-out of lignite, the most polluting form of coal, suggesting that Germany is still in thrall to vast energy companies which are still expanding mines and committing major rights infringements.
“And far from a logical approach to securing energy as coal is phased out, we’re actually seeing obstacles to renewable energy growth, which puts the entire phase-out at risk.
“Germany is one of Europe’s leading economies, and it is embarrassing to see such totally incoherent policymaking at a time we’ve never needed strong, solid climate action more.”
Key issues with the draft coal phase-out law
The main reason Germany’s ‘Coal Commission’ was formed was to decide how to manage a coal phase-out to cut carbon emissions in order to protect the climate. But this rationale is not made explicit in the law as it stands – and without climate protection as a guiding principle, the law is much less likely to perform against its intended objectives.
The leaked law contains provisions on how to phase out the first Gigawatts (GW) of hard coal to 2026 via tender procedures. If these do not reach the intended GW reduction, no possibility of state-enforced closures is planned in the law, which puts the phase-out path at risk entirely.
The law leaves the GW-reduction path for hard coal for the period from 2027 to 2038 (or earlier) to be determined by a future government by 2022. The already late end date of 2038 will only be assessed for the first time in 2032; earlier assessments by an expert committee, according to the draft, would only result in recommendations to the government and no commitments.
The draft law still needs to pass the cabinet next Monday and only then will pass on to the parliament, but presumably not before the end of this year. The law also does not yet contain any details on how the phase-out of lignite in Germany will take place, which is extremely bad news for those in Germany who stand to lose their villages for coal mining.
The leaked draft of the coal phase-out law contains changes to many other laws, too, among them a provision in construction law that in the future would limit the expansion of wind energy considerably.
ClientEarth – Anwälte der Erde and Greenpeace Germany released a draft coal phase-out law earlier this year, foregrounding the need to set climate protection as the key objective of the law, as this will affect how ministries and courts apply it.
The lawyers have also released legal analysis on why large payoffs to operators to close their lignite plants would likely not be legally permissible. Since lignite has been left out of the leaked draft, there is currently no assessment as to whether companies will receive payoffs for shutdowns.
Hundreds of people in Germany are still under vast pressure to leave their homes to allow for lignite mine expansion, despite the ongoing coal phase-out discussions and international understanding of the need to act urgently on climate.
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.