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Bavaria seeks fast-track German coal exit in snub to Merkel plan

[FRANKFURT] Bavaria, Germany's industrial powerhouse, wants the nation to stop burning coal by 2030, eight years before Chancellor Angela Merkel's deadline.

Germany's plan to exit the fossil fuel is unrealistic and won't work unless a more aggressive target is set, Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Soeder said in an interview in the Muenchner Merkur newspaper. The nation has pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 55 per cent by 2030 under the Paris climate accord, but it's falling behind and only a cut of 32 per cent is seen by next year.

"Germany can only reach its 2030 goal if we massively accelerate a coal exit," said Mr Soeder, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Bavaria's challenge to Ms Merkel's timetable underlines the precariousness of a plan put together in January that still needs the approval of two chambers in parliament. The first coal plants are scheduled to close next year, yet talks on phase-out details between the government and utilities RWE and Uniper have barely begun.

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Economy and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier said Monday on ARD TV that the coal exit in 2038 remains "for the moment". Discussions to speed up the timetable can be held as long as the security of power supply and its affordability are not at stake. "The lights have to stay on," he said.

Protests flared over the weekend as demonstrators stormed the RWE's Garzweiler lignite mine and power plant. A firm backer of a faster exit from coal, Germany's opposition Green party is surging in voter support, prompting Merkel this month to say that the nation faces "disruptive" changes in climate policy.

Bavaria may have little to lose by rocking the boat. The region has just five operational coal stations among nation's roster of about 125 plants, and no lignite mines nor lignite-fired facilities. The region's wealth is tied to engineering prowess represented by companies such as BMW, Audi and Siemens.

Mr Soeder called on the government to rethink its plan to distribute 40 billion euros (S$61.6 billion) in structural aid to four regions in the north of the country where the coal industry is focused. Some of the money could be better spent on clean energy research, he said.

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