Germany can cut coal emissions, but regional leaders’ “untrue and desperate” claims threaten progress on air quality

Industrial landscape with pipes and smoke from big plant

German government ministers are being warned not to believe “untrue and desperate” claims about new EU measures to reduce air pollution. Instead, eight environmental groups have written an open letter urging the government to take advantage of the new rules to make significant cuts to toxic emissions from dirty coal plants.

An open letter sent today and signed by the European Environmental Bureau, Klima-Allianz Deutschland, Deutscher Naturschutzring, Germanwatch, Greenpeace, BUND, NABU and HEAL, highlights the fact that one in five premature deaths caused by coal pollution in the EU is due to German plants.

The joint letter points out that setting appropriate limits, in line with what is possible using tried-and-tested techniques, could prevent more than 3,000 premature deaths and reduce associated health costs by €8.26bn every year in Germany alone.

The EEB is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with 140 members in over 30 countries.

Christian Schaible, EEB Industrial Production Manager and a member of the Technical Working Group that helped to draft the new European rules said:

Operators of coal plants in Germany should do much more to cut pollution. It’s time for the German government to stop defending the lignite industry and finally get to work cutting harmful emissions from coal plants and taking every opportunity to accelerate a transition to towards sustainable energy. Taking firm action on nitrious oxide pollution would send a clear signal that business cannot continue as usual. The deputy economy minister has said half of coal capacity must be phased out without financial compensations: appropriate, well-designed pollution limits are the tools that can do this.

Despite the enormous health and environmental benefits of stricter limits, regional leaders had asked the German government for “all legal and political means” to be deployed to stop new European protections from coming into force.

In a letter signed by the leaders of Sachsen, Brandenburg, North Rhine Westphalia und Sachsen-Anhalt, a widely-rejected claim was made that the new standards were adopted “unlawfully”, without regard for the proper procedures of EU lawmaking. This claim has been dismissed out of hand by the European Commission and labelled “untrue and desperate” by environmental groups, who point out that the discredited legal advice, on which it was based, was commissioned by the German brown coal industry.

The regional leaders all represent areas of Germany where lignite, or brown coal, is burnt. This type of coal is the most polluting in Europe and is mined from giant open-cast mines that create huge scars on the landscape.

Today’s joint letter was sent just days after deputy economy minister Rainer Baake told an energy conference that Germany would need to half it coal capacity by 2030 if it is to have any hope of meeting the commitments made under the Paris climate agreement.

Updated pollution limits, especially on nitrogen oxides (NOx), would require certain operators to make important investment decisions, reduce operation, or close their plants entirely: all within the law and without a justification for compensation.

Notes to editors: 

An EEB technical briefing (in German) has show that even if all of German lignite plants that have entered operation since 1996 were forced to install new pollution-reducing techniques, the benefits to society would be almost seven times higher than the costs to operators (assuming 10 years continued operation up to 2027).

Read the joint letter (in German) here:

For more information:

Anton Lazarus - Communications Officer - Industrial Production, European Environmental Bureau

anton.lazarus@eeb.org

+32 2 790 88 18