Research - 13.09.2019 - 00:00

Majority would support an earlier phase-out of coal

A study by the Institute for Economy and the Environment at the University of St. Gallen (IWÖ-HSG) shows that the German population would like to see coal phased out sooner than currently envisaged by the federal government-appointed coal commission. The results have now been published in the international journal Nature Energy.

The analysis is based on a survey that questioned 2,161 German voters on their attitudes to various options for the phasing out of coal. In addition, 500 people in each of the two coal-producing regions of Rhineland and Lusatia were also surveyed. In addition to the timing of the phase-out, the scenarios interviewees had to choose from also differed in terms of the costs incurred and their impact on employment. The exit scenarios analysed also included compensatory measures for the affected regions, such as investments in infrastructure. In addition, the influence of voters’ party allegiances on the preference of a particular scenario was also examined.

Greatest support for exit by 2025

The evaluation shows that the greatest support is for a coal phase-out by 2025, even if this would incur additional costs. Although the interviewees made a negative assessment of possible job losses, the creation of new jobs, e.g. in renewable energies, is rated comparatively highly in comparison to the loss of jobs in the coal industry. While support for a rapid phase-out is somewhat less pronounced in the coal-producing regions than overall nationally, interviewees in the Rhineland and Lusatia also rated an end to coal-fired power generation as the best option, by 2025 and 2030 respectively. 

An understanding of the scientific consensus is crucial

More than 90% of climate scientists agree that climate change is due to human emissions. The HSG researchers were able to show that correct assessment of this scientific consensus is an essential factor in the support for a faster phase-out of coal. “Those who mistakenly think that the science is still largely divided on this question have a much less pronounced preference for an early exit”, says Dr. Adrian Rinscheid, who conducted the study together with Prof. Dr. Rolf Wüstenhagen. “In addition, our analysis shows that early divestment from coal is not only supported by left-wing and green voters, but is also favoured by supporters of centre-right parties such as the CDU and FDP.”

The world’s largest producer of brown coal

Germany is the world’s largest producer of brown coal and one of the ten largest countries worldwide in terms of coal consumption. Although the share of renewable energies within electricity generation rose from 3.6 percent in 1990 to 35.2 percent in 2018, coal still accounts for one third of all electricity generated. In 2018, the German government appointed a commission of experts to draw up a roadmap for the phasing out of coal. In its final report, published at the beginning of this year, the commission proposed that Germany gradually close all its coal-fired power plants by 2038. While some observers praised the commission for being able to reach a compromise, others criticised the recommendations as being insufficient to achieve stated climate targets. The St. Gallen researchers’ new study demonstrates that a more ambitious timetable for the phasing out of coal would also be acceptable to a majority of the German population.

Photo: pixabay/ RoDobby