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Swedish political leaders cast doubt on Vatenfall’s German coal dreams

Vatenfall’s German coal dreams

All of Sweden’s political parties have said they would look to ban Vattenfall’s coal expansion in Germany. Creative Commons: Bert Kaufmann, 2012

Swedish coal company Vattenfall has had its hopes of expanding its operations dashed as leaders from all eight of the country’s major political parties have said they would ban the state-owned company’s planned new projects in Germany.

During an election debate last week, the leaders were asked if they would “ban Vatenfall from expanding coal power in Germany?” with all eight holding up green scorecards showing they would support the idea.

Polling by Greenpeace found the vast majority of Swedes (77%) oppose Vattenfall’s new mining plans, and last week’s show of political opposition comes after thousands of people joined hands across the Lausitz region – stretching across the German-Polish border – to oppose the proposed coal expansion.

Vattenfall currently plans to expand its existing lignite mines, and potentially build new coal power stations, in the East German Lausitz region.

Such plans that would see 700-year-old villages decimated, beautiful landscapes destroyed and over 6000 homes bulldozed.

One of the world’s dirtiest fuels, the reckless expansion of Europe’s lignite industry has been labelled a “massive threat” to the continent’s decarbonisation.

Vatenfall’s existing plants in the Lausitz region are already responsible for the same level of emissions as the whole of Sweden.

But the mines that feed these plants are running dry and they company has applied for permits to enlarge them –locking in supply for its existing power stations.

100% owned by the Swedish people, Vattenfall has to follow government instructions and last week’s debate was the first time the mines have become a major topic of public discussion in the country.

However, as quickly as they supported the ban, some Swedish leaders are now backing away from it.

Centre party leader and minister for energy Annie Lööf, for example, told television company SVT that if her party won the election – to be held on 14 September – Vattenfall’s German assets would be sold.

By selling off this arm of the company’s operations Swedish politicians would simply be shifting the emissions away from the country.

Meanwhile it is still unclear exactly what the “ban on expanding coal power” would include, and whether this would refer to the proposed lignite mine expansion or would only refer to new coal power plants – which Vattenfall currently has no immediate plans to build.

The Swedish Green party has, however, already come out in support a ban on all new lignite mines saying it would be one of their first pushes if they joined the new government, while debates over the proposed expansion have at least put climate change and coal power at the heart of the election discussion.

But coal is not the only climate relevant topic up for debate as Sweden heads to the poll. The Greens have been joined by the other parties in also making divestment an election issue – making commitments to divest the country’s national pension funds from fossil fuels.

All other parties have also pledged they would include human rights, climate and environmental considerations as a basis for pension fund investments.

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