All eyes are on Germany this weekend, as the fight for a renewable energy future reaches a peak and sees crowds of concerned citizens gather to oppose coal and to call for a just energy transition.
This Saturday, environmental groups, affected communities and members of the general public will form a human chain along the Garzweiler II open-pit mine in the region of North-Rhine Westphalia.
They are calling for cuts in open pit mining, fighting the coal-related displacement of five communities, and supporting ambitious government plans to shelve Germany’s dirtiest and oldest lignite power plants and achieve its 40% emissions reduction target.
The government is proposing a new levy on power plants that are older than 20 years.
According to the Ministry of Economy this would affect the 10 per cent most CO2-intensive power plants in Germany, essentially those based on lignite.
Ultimately, experts predict that the levy should therefore lead to the “natural” phase-out of the most polluting lignite plants by 2020.
Plans for a climate levy on these plants is being fiercely opposed by certain utilities and trade unions, but their argument – centred on job losses – is looking increasingly thin, and their voice is being progressively drowned out by support for the proposal from all sectors of society.
While opponents warn that the new levy could mean 100,000 job losses in Germany’s coal sector, supporters of the governments plans warn that the status quo will not mean more jobs and that a just energy transition will create greater sustainable employment and allow local communities to stay in their homes.
A study by the Institute of Economic Structures Research (GWS) for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy shows that in 2013 the renewables industry accounted for around 371,400 jobs (gross), while soon-to-be-published study by the Ministry of Economy shows a clean energy transition could mean a net gain of 100,000 jobs by 2030, and up to 230,000 by 2050.
Germany’s coal debate is unlikely to remain a domestic issue.
Credible German leadership on climate change is also important on the international stage, as Chancellor Merkel is looking to place ambitious climate targets high on the agenda of the upcoming G7 summit.
In a month that saw record protests in Canada and millions join Earth Day, this weekend’s Human Chain protest in Germany is the latest example of the clear and growing support for a renewable energy transition.
As new analysis from HSBC warns that plunging commodity prices, new technologies and climate change policies put the future of fossil fuel assets at risk, the outlook for coal looks particularly “bleak”, with blows seen across the world fromAustralia to the US and the Ukraine.
With commentators asking not “if the world will transition to clean energy, but how long it will take”, it appears the reign of King Coal is over.
With such growing calls for climate action, in Germany and worldwide, and an increasingly gloomy outlook for the global coal industry, upholding its ambitious climate levy will be a win-win for the Merkel government.
Such action would shield the country from the effects of coal’s volatile future, further support its booming renewables market, and ensure its role as a climate leader with its G7 partners in June and at the UN Climate Summit in Paris at the end of the year.