Being the largest coal-mining country in Europe, and the eighth-largest coal producer in the world Germany is a crucial actor when it comes to fighting the climate crisis. Despite its move away from coal which is planned until 2038, Germany is still dependent on coal mining. Almost 9% of the coal miners and coal power plant workers in the EU are employed in Germany, representing almost 20,000 direct jobs of which around 9,000 are in North Rhine-Westphalia. Though a lot of people work in the coal industry, almost two-thirds of the current coal mining industry will retire by 2030 anyway. This means that the reduction in coal-fired power generation by 2030 required by climate policy can avoid compulsory redundancies among those currently employed in the coal industry. Employment-wise, it remains relevant that new hires in the coal industry will be reduced. Therefore supporting economic structural change can primarily concentrate on promoting the establishment of future-oriented industries and companies so that people outside the coal mining industry have a perspective for the future.
A shift to renewables would thus require additional efforts to ensure economic diversification and revitalization, to provide reskilling and upskilling, and to counteract the depopulation of the affected regions. In order to cope with the necessary structural change locally, a total of 14.8 billion euros in funding is flowing into the Rhenish mining area, which the German government is making available for research and industry projects with the aim of creating new jobs.
That the climate crisis is man-made and would have a major impact on people's lives has been known for many decades. For this long, politicians have also been warned by scientists that climate inaction would make climate catastrophes such as extreme weather events more likely.
After decades of being warned by the IPCC about the catastrophic consequences of climate inaction, policymakers have started to take the climate crisis more seriously since the ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2015. But although some politicians describe the German coal phase-out date of 2038 and the climate neutrality target of 2045 as already ambitious enough, scientists argue that the German targets need substantial improvement to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. As a matter of fact, if all countries were to follow Germany’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.
Recent extreme weather events all over the world have shown that we are already in the midst of the climate crisis and that it is more important than ever to act on climate change. But not only fires and droughts in other countries, such as in South Africa, Brazil, California, and Australia are becoming more frequent due to anthropogenic climate change; the scale of the climate disaster is also increasing in Europe. This was demonstrated by the deadly European flood disaster of the summer of 2021, in which more than 220 people died, at least 183 of them in Germany. The catastrophe has once again made clear that unambitious and inadequate climate protection is becoming increasingly expensive: The insurance group Aon estimated a preliminary damage amount of more than 25 billion U.S. dollars (of which about 20 billion dollars in Germany), making the disaster the most expensive flood event in the history of Europe.
When, if not now, is it time to make ourselves heard and demand bold climate action that is needed more urgently than ever to reverse this momentum? That's exactly what various groups from the German climate movement had in mind this summer and therefore organized climate protests all over Germany.
For instance, the "Alle Dörfer bleiben" (eng.: every village stays) alliance mobilized for a week of protests in the Rhenish lignite region at the beginning of August, which included camping and a diverse cultural program with music, exhibitions, theater, arts and crafts, circus and workshops. Their protest also included a human chain of thousands of people at the Garzweiler II open pit mine which was co-organized with environmental associations and the climate movement to symbolically protect the villages threatened by demolition (Immerath, Lützerath, Keyenberg, Oberwestrich, Unterwestrich, Kuckum, and Berverath) and mark the 1.5°C limit. Of the 1,500 people who once lived in the villages, a little over 700 are still left.
Another example is the Fridays for Future movement, which on September 24, the last Friday before the German federal election, organized school strikes in over 470 cities across Germany under the slogan #AlleFürsKlima (eng.: everyone for climate), in which a total of 620,000 people took the streets to draw attention to Germany's not sufficiently far-reaching climate policies and to call on people to vote for the climate.
Some of “Alle Dörfer bleiben” and Fridays for Future's key demands, which are also shared by other grassroots climate groups and NGOs, including Climate Reality, are to have Germany phase out coal by 2030 and to achieve Germany's climate neutrality by 2035.
Last Sunday, on September 26, there were German federal elections, whose results have significantly changed the balance of power in German politics. Regardless of which parties will make up the next German government, one thing is for sure: climate protection and the simultaneous social and economic balance will be one of the most important issues it will face during the next four years.
The commitment of the climate protection movement is not over yet either, as it has already announced further protest actions for the fall: "Alle Dörfer bleiben" is planning various actions in the first week of October, Fridays for Future is mobilizing for the next Global Climate Strike on October 22, and “Ende Gelände” wants to occupy lignite areas in North Rhine-Westphalia in early November.
These further protests will also aim to put pressure on the parties involved in coalition negotiations to include the most ambitious climate protection possible in their government program. Let's hope that the next German government will do its duty to make its fair contribution to the Paris climate protection agreement because that is exactly what the people need and want for a better future!