From Berlin to Cologne, people are calling for an immediate end to coal-based energy production. On Saturday, more than 35,000 people took to the streets to remind the Grand Coalition of the commitments made three years ago at the Paris Climate Conference. The demonstrations were scheduled on the eve of the COP24 UN environmental summit, inaugurated Monday in the Polish city of Katowice.
In the German capital, more than 16,000 protesters besieged the Federal Chancellery for hours, chanting the slogan “Kohle stoppen” (“Stop coal!”) and demanding “climate protection now.” Many members of the Greens took part in the demonstration, including former Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin, in addition to an alliance of associations, movements and NGOs, such as Greenpeace, Nabu and Bund. Meanwhile, 20,000 Germans occupied the streets of Cologne dressed up as trees in flames, a clear reference to the fight to save the nearby Hambach forest from its destruction at the hands of the energy giant RWE.
“The high turnout showed the will of the citizens for a quick exit from coal and, even more importantly, the protest against the government’s inaction on climate protection,” one of the event’s organizers told the Deutsche Welle news agency.
This poses quite a political problem for Angela Merkel’s Grand Coalition, as well as an economic one for the coal-producing regions, especially in the former East Germany—most prominently the Lands of Brandenburg and Saxony, which continue to resist the closure of their mines—while coal still accounts for nearly a quarter of the total energy produced in the Bundesrepublik. Lignite alone is responsible for a fifth of all CO2 emissions, which is why “Germany must immediately reduce fossil fuel use, and stop it completely in the medium term,” explained Claudia Kemfert of the Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU), which is “in dialogue” with the Merkel government.
According to the SRU, “the last coal-fired plant should be closed within a maximum of 20 years”—that is, if the Berlin government coalition really intends to meet the target of keeping global warming under 2 degrees centigrade, which the country agreed to when signing the 2015 Paris Agreement.
This is one of the topics under discussion in Katowice through Dec. 14, an event featuring 30,000 delegates from 196 UN countries. In the capital of Upper Silesia, one the major coalfields of Europe (where the level of soot has now exceeded the measurements in Beijing), representatives of governments, the scientific community and NGOs will try to carve out a path forward on climate change.
Polish Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Environment Minister Jan Szyszko (who also holds the ministerial portfolio for Development) have formally committed to “coordinate” the World Climate Summit, which is intended to elaborate “a consistent policy of sustainable development and economic transformation.”
In this regard, however, Manuel Pulgar Vidal of WWF International has given an honest account of the difficulties of what needs to be done to achieve the “good progress” that is expected from the COP24: from the issue of funding for developing countries for climate protection, to reckoning with the incontrovertible evidence of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shows that the current individual commitments by each state to reduce CO2 emissions are not enough for achieving the objectives of the COP21 in Paris, to the strengthening of national climate plans by 2020.
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