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Breaking Germany’s Coal Addiction

Summary:
While coal is the most readily replaceable energy source, many countries – including Germany – have found it difficult to wean their economies off it. Now, as it makes plans to phase out coal, Germany has an important opportunity to lead the world toward a sustainable future. BERLIN – Germany is about to break its coal addiction. Last year, the government created a 28-member “coal commission” – comprising scientists, politicians, environmental campaigners, trade unions, and utilities representatives – with the unenviable mandate of deciding when the country would get clean. Balancing pragmatic considerations with recognition of the reality of climate change, the commission has now set 2038 as the deadline for reaching zero coal,

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While coal is the most readily replaceable energy source, many countries – including Germany – have found it difficult to wean their economies off it. Now, as it makes plans to phase out coal, Germany has an important opportunity to lead the world toward a sustainable future.

BERLIN – Germany is about to break its coal addiction. Last year, the government created a 28-member “coal commission” – comprising scientists, politicians, environmental campaigners, trade unions, and utilities representatives – with the unenviable mandate of deciding when the country would get clean. Balancing pragmatic considerations with recognition of the reality of climate change, the commission has now set 2038 as the deadline for reaching zero coal, with the withdrawal beginning immediately.

The Wall Street Journal calls it the “world’s dumbest energy policy.” In fact, Germany’s shift is vital and long overdue. The real question is whether it will be enough to support meaningful progress in the global effort to mitigate climate change.

It is scientifically well established that if the world is to keep the average increase in global temperature “well below” 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels – the “safe” limit enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement – no more than another 500-800 billion tons of carbon dioxide can be emitted. On current trends, this would take just 12-20 years.

Instead, the world needs to follow a trajectory called the “carbon law,” which requires reducing...

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