Federal Cabinet Appoints Coal Exit Commission

After much debate, the Federal Cabinet on 6 June 2018 approved the Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment (Kommission Wachstum, Strukturwandel und Beschäftigung), also informally called coal commission or coal exit commission. The commission will look into Germany’s next exit project after the nuclear power exit, the coal power exit.

1. Commission

After having been postponed three times, the Federal Cabinet has appointed the long-awaited commission. The launch of the commission was delayed because of disagreement within the government coalition parties about personnel, scope and deadlines. This delay reveals how extremely sensitive the issue is and how different the concerned interests are.

The Commission will be chaired by

  • Matthias Platzeck (former prime minister of Brandenburg, SPD)
  • Ronald Pofalla (former chief of the chancellery, now on the management board for infrastructure at Deutsche Bahn)
  • Prof. Barbara Praetorius (climate economist, former deputy director at think tank Agora Energiewende)
  • Stanislaw Tillich  (former prime of Saxony, CDU)

The composition of the chairmen was a major reason for the delays. The commission comprises a 28 members with voting rights. These members include representatives of environmental associations, trade unions, economic and energy associations, the affected regions and science. Further three of the members are members of the parliament and have no voting rights.

2. Tasks of the Commission

According to the decision of Federal Cabinet the Commission has to develop an action plan with following key points:

  1. Creating a concrete perspective for new, future-proof jobs in the affected regions in cooperation between federal, state, local and economic actors.
  2. Designing a mix of instruments for combining climate action with economic development, structural change, social cohesion and social compatibility.
  3. Developing prospects for durable energy regions in the context of the energy transition including investments in the regions and economic sectors affected by the structural change.
  4. Developing measures to ensure the successful achievement of the 2030 energy sector target set out in the Climate Action Plan i.e. to reduce emissions by 61 to 62 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.
  5. Preparing a plan for the gradual reduction and phase-out of coal-based power generation, including a deadline and the necessary legal, economic, social, renaturalisation and structural support measures.
  6. Presenting recommendations for measures to help the energy sector close the gap in achieving the 40 percent reduction target for 2020 as much as possible.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze commented: “We will make sure to include people in the affected regions in the phase-out of coal and thus help create acceptance for our climate targets. The Commission is made up of high-calibre members.

3. Timeframe

The timeframe for the commission is extremely tight:

  • Until end of October 2018: The commission shall submit its recommendations for measures on the social and structural development of lignite mining regions and their financial security.
  • Until next UN Climate Change Conference taking place from 3 to 14 December 2018 in Kattowice: the Commission shall present its recommendations for measures to help the energy sector to fill the gap in achieving the 40 percent reduction target for 2020 as much as possible.
  • End of 2018: The Commission shall submit its final report to the government.

4. Comment

The Commission is a peculiar animal.  Its name “Commission Growth, Structural Change and Employment” does not even name its purpose to discuss the coal exit.  The reason is an underlying political question: The political decision to exit coal has not really been taken yet. As part of the coalition negotiations, the CDU/CSU/SPD coalition partners agreed to set up this commission.  In the coalition agreement, the parties agreed that the commission shall develop a climate protection action programme, including a step plan to reduce and end power production from coal, with an end date and the necessary legal, commercial, social and structural accompanying measures.

In light of the high number of 28 plus 4 members and the very tight deadlines of October and December 2018 it remains to be seen whether the commission can actually do any thorough work.  The setup seems to suggest that the commission will have to rely heavily on political input from the government, rather than doing original work on the facts and options itself.  Against this background, it remains to be seen what role individual members of the commission will play, in particular whether or to what extent they will be prepared to openly address pros and cons of a coal exit, including its financial costs and effects on the security of supply.  And how this input will translate into the commission’s recommendation.

In the interest of arriving at the right decision, it would be good if the commission could indeed analyse the underlying facts, costs and effects, and openly discuss options. The setup of the commission raises questions.

Sources: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety, Decision of Federal Cabinet, Welt.de

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