Given that the government has long failed to deliver a clear plan for a coal phase-out, Germany’s coal commission – made up of a mix of political representatives, scientists, industry lobby groups and environmental NGOs – faced a difficult task from the outset. The aim was to create a robust societal consensus on how to phase out coal and meet Germany’s climate goals, in the face of strong pushback from the powerful fossil fuel industry and workers unions.

There was no guarantee that an agreement would be reached. After months of tense negotiations, the fact that concrete steps to phase out coal in Germany have finally been put on the table is testament to the strength of the climate movement.

In recent years we’ve made huge progress in highlighting that Germany cannot live up to its reputation as an international climate leader without addressing its coal problem. The majority of the population is now in favour of a rapid coal phase out.

Just last year, thousands of people rallied to defend the Hambach forest from coal company RWE and joined marches in Berlin and Cologne demanding an end to coal. School students have followed the example set by 16 year old Greta Thunberg in Sweden and have organised strikes attended by thousands of children in recent weeks.

Against this backdrop of growing pressure, the results of the commission are all the more disappointing. While environmental NGOs in the commission felt that enough was on offer to agree to the outcome (with a small caveat on the end date), there’s a general sense within the movement that it’s a clear case of too little, too late.

What do the recommendations include?

A considerable reduction in coal capacity is planned from now until 2022, but the proposed end date of 2038 means that coal companies can essentially continue extracting and burning coal for almost two decades. This gives Germany little chance of meeting its 2030 climate targets and is not compatible with the goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Laura from 350.org in Germany highlighted this aspect in a press statement:

“Scientists have warned governments that to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis global warming must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This proposal falls short of that requirement, it fails to safeguard our future and protect the millions of people worldwide already affected by the consequences of climate change, many of whom are forced to fight for their very survival on a daily basis.” Read more.

For those who are already facing the impacts of climate change, this lack of commitment to averting the climate crisis poses an existential threat.

Global call for Germany to quit coal!

That’s why back in November, we launched a global petition demanding that Germany stops fueling the climate crisis and acts to keep global warming below 1.5°C. It ran in parallel to the coal commission and highlighted that the voices of those already feeling the impacts of climate change were not represented at the negotiating table.

When we handed the 23,840 signatures from around the world to State Secretary Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter in front of Germany’s environmental ministry last Monday, we reminded her that unlike coal-plant operators, those on the frontlines of climate change are not likely to receive millions of euros in compensation when the impacts hit home.

An impressive street art banner made by Peruvian-German artist Nasco Uno provided the backdrop for the handover, giving a powerful visual representation of the voices of several people who are already impacted by climate change around the world.

Heiner Lütke, an organic farmer from Brandenburg in Germany, is one of them. At the action in Berlin he spoke of the extreme heat which impacted crops in Germany this past summer. In a legal case that has made headlines, Lütke has taken the German government to court for their lack of commitment to addressing climate change.

During the action, the message for the German government was clear:

Photo: Ruben Neugebauer

Given that the coal commission has failed to deliver what’s needed, the “consensus” has come under fire. People from across all walks of society have already declared that they will continue to push for stronger action and take matters into their own hands.

Ende Gelände is calling for a decentralised week of action from 1 – 10 February. Actions are planned in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich, Münster and Cologne.

Last weekend, activists blocked the coal harbour in Hamburg as a powerful kick-off for the protests to come. Further actions are planned in Berlin this Friday. Ende Gelände Berlin and Extinction Rebellion are calling for acts of civil disobedience to flood the surrounding streets of the coal commission venue. On the same day, Fridays for Future has called for school students to strike once again to make it clear that the coal commission does not represent the interests of young people.

From Ende Gelände to new groups like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future, it is clear that the fight for climate justice will – and must – continue.