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Lignite phase-out missed for the time being

Lignite phase-out missed for now

Janschwalde opencast lignite mine with the janschwalde power plant. Image: hanno bock/cc0

The energy and climate newsreel: energy policy review and outlook

Warnings that germany will miss its climate targets for 2020 have been sounding since before yesterday. The german government’s climate protection report for 2015 on the action program 2020 confirms this amption, even if it is not explicitly formulated as follows. Germany has set itself the goal of reducing its co2 emissions by 40 percent compared with the base year 1990. By 2015, 27 percent of this had been achieved.

As early as 2014, the german government adopted the action program climate protection 2020 and the national action plan energy efficiency (nape) to close a climate protection gap of an estimated five to eight percent of the savings target. The action program is intended to save 62 to 78 million metric tons of co2 equivalents through numerous individual reductions. According to the current estimates of the experts, this will hardly be achieved. As it stands now, implementation and planning have reduced co2 emissions by only 47 million to 58 million metric tons by 2020. Federal environment minister barbara hendricks is nevertheless cautiously optimistic:

The measures of the action program start to work, we save energy costs, we create values and employment with the climate protection. In this respect, we are well on the way to achieving the 40 percent target by 2020. After all, 70 percent of the more than 100 measures in the action program have already been completely implemented. Nevertheless, germany still has to make a great effort to achieve the goals it has set itself.

Barbara hendricks

The problem child is and remains the transport sector, where, according to the current forecasts of the experts, there will hardly be any reduction in emissions. At 164 million metric tons co2-equivalent, 2015 emissions are at 1990 levels and account for 18 percent of germany’s total emissions. With the reductions in the action program, they should drop by 7 to 10 million tons by 2020; as it stands now, the experts expect a reduction of between 1.15 and 1.6 million tons.

The climate action program and the nape were followed in 2015 by a tough struggle within the german government over the climate protection plan, which was only adopted at the last minute before the climate conference in marrakech in november. In june, the federal ministry of economics had already removed the specific targets for the coal phase-out from the environment ministry’s draft in particular. Further cancellations were then made in july by the chancellor’s office. Environmental groups subsequently criticized the lack of ambition in the areas of agriculture, transport and industry.

The main shortcoming of the version adopted in november is that the coal phase-out is neither specified nor given a date. A commission that is supposed to deal with the future of lignite is not to be set up until 2018, and "commission for growth, structural change and regional development" heiben, the word "exit" is avoided.

Lusatian lignite sector goes to new owners

In 2016, the sale of the lignite division of swedish energy company vattenfall in germany to czech energetický a průmyslový holding (eph) and its financial partner ppf-investments, based on the channel island of jersey, cemented the continued exploitation of lignite in lusatia. Climate activists tried for months to block this deal. But despite protests, the swedish government approved the sale in early july, the eu commission in september.

Vattenfall transferred its lignite-fired power plants and opencast mines in lusatia to the new owners at the end of september. These have established two new companies: lausitz energie bergbau ag for coal mining and lausitz energie kraftwerke ag for the operation of the power plants. Both operate under the joint brand leag. Behind the two leag companies is a complicated shareholder structure, partly with company headquarters in the tax havens of cyprus and jersey, as reported by energy journalist stefan schroter.

The parent company of the leag companies is lausitz energie verwaltungs gmbh, which is based in cottbus and has a share capital of only 25 percent.000 euros. However, the latter holds only 80 percent of the shares in its subsidiaries; the remaining 20 percent are in turn owned by special-purpose entities of eph and ppf, which have been set up by the two companies.A. Registered in cyprus and jersey.

The role of lausitz energie verwaltungs gmbh remains unclear; a representative of lausitz ernergie bergbau ag was unwilling to comment on this at the meeting of the brandenburg lignite committee on 17 november. November not provide any information. Heide schinowsky, a member of the grunen parliament, has now put a small question to the state government about the ownership structure and liability of the leag companies.

Such reports cast doubt on how much responsibility the new owners in the region are prepared to bear in the long term. Even before that, it had been suspected that eph was interested in making as much profit as possible in lusatia without building up the necessary reserves for the later recultivation of the opencast mines.

During the first three years after the takeover, however, the possibilities for profit absorption are contractually limited, and backlogs may not be dissolved during this period either. Leag has not yet announced its exact plans for lusatia, for example, with regard to the expansion of open-cast mines.

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