Climate activists rage as Germany opts for drawn-out coal exit

Climate activists heckled German MPs Friday outside the Berlin parliament building as the country passed a law to end use of coal-fired power generation by 2038.

Climate activists rage as Germany opts for drawn-out coal exit
Activists hung a sign saying 'a future without coal power' outside the Reichstag building. Photo: DPA

Demonstrators are angry at the drawn-out timetable that will see coal plants only gradually taken offline over the coming 18 years, as well as at what they say are over-generous payments to energy companies that more than compensate any lost profits.

“The fossil fuel age is irrevocably coming to an end in Germany with this decision,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told lawmakers inside the chamber, urging opponents not to “talk it down”.

Outside, NGO Greenpeace hung a giant banner demanding “a future without coal power” from the Reichstag building's pediment, its script aping the historic structure's famous dedication “to the German people”.

Since ministers agreed the law in January, campaigners including the youth-led Fridays for Future movement have turned to demonstrations calling for a much faster timetable for the end of coal use.

Activists in February occupied a new power plant known as Datteln 4, set to begin generating under the new law, before targeting two opencast coal mines last week.

READ ALSO: 'Climate crime': Activists occupy two German coal mines


Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has stuck to its course.

“Today could have been a historic day. It's bitter because this law does not include the climate protection that is needed in these times,” opposition Greens party leader Annalena Baerbock told Deutschlandfunk public radio.

Especially galling to environmentalists is a total of €4.3 billion ($4.8 billion) set to flow to power companies, alongside €40 billion ($45 billion) of government aid for regions that depend on mining and energy jobs.

By keeping energy supply predictable, the law will sustain Germany as an industrial hub, leader of the IG BCE mining and energy workers' union Michael Vassiliadis told news agency DPA.

But “we've been debating the exit for too long. We ought to finally come up with a ramping-up plan, for building up renewable energy and the grid,” he added.

Germany aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2030 under targets agreed in December.

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German city residents sue government over air pollution

Seven residents in Germany are taking the government to court over the poor air quality around their homes, an organisation representing them said on Monday.

German city residents sue government over air pollution

The residents of Berlin, Duesseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich believe current government legislation is “demonstrably inadequate to protect people’s health”, according to the organisation, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH).

Levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in Germany are up to five times higher than the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), according to DUH.

The complainants are calling for immediate action to bring about “a reduction in dangerous air pollutants from, among other things, traffic, wood burning and agriculture”, said Juergen Resch, national director of DUH.

“Politicians are doing too little to protect people like me who live on a busy road,” said complainant Volker Becker-Battaglia, from Munich.

This time last year, a new coalition government was elected in Germany on a promise to make environmental concerns one of its top priorities.

READ ALSO: Germany should ditch Christmas lights this year, says environmental group

The Greens entered power for the first time in more than two decades, promising that Germany would end coal power and generate 80 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030.

But since then, climate concerns have been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, an acute energy crisis and record inflation.

Germany has accelerated plans to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) by sea and has even decided to reactivate mothballed coal-fired power plants.

In 2021, climate activists won a landmark victory in Germany when the constitutional court ruled that the government’s climate plans were insufficient and placed an unfair burden on future generations.

German environmental groups also last year announced a legal offensive against car giants Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW over their emissions.