Garzweiler mine, Germany. Photograph by Raimond Spekking
From Environment 360:
Germany is Europe’s largest economy, and its wealth depends heavily on exporting industrial goods made with cheap electricity. Lignite is the cheapest source of electricity from fossil fuels, and Germany has the world’s largest reserves of it. But lignite causes the highest CO2 emissions per ton when burned, one-third more than hard coal and three times as much as natural gas.
Yet Germany also has the most ambitious green energy strategy of all the industrialized nations — the Energiewende, or energy transformation. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany’s conservative chancellor, Angela Merkel, vowed to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2022, while simultaneously sticking to the pre-existing goal of reducing national CO2 emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80 to 90 percent by 2050.
While Germany prides itself as a green champion, something paradoxical has happened in the last several years: CO2 emissions steadily fell from 1,051 million metric tons in 1990 to 813 million tons in 2011, the year of the Fukushima disaster. But in 2012 and 2013, CO2 emissions rose again to 841 million tons. This can largely be attributed to an increase in the use of lignite for electricity production.
When the emissions data was compiled last year, alarms went off in Merkel’s chancellery, and even more so when an expert report projected that Germany would fall short of its 2020 CO2 target by five to eight percentage points. Merkel has rejected criticism that her government’s nuclear phase-out is responsible for this gap.