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Germany's struggle to move away from fossil fuels


04-02-2016 10:26 BJT

Five years after Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster -- the impact is still being felt, worldwide. In its wake, Germany turned its back on nuclear energy -- preferring a rapid transition to renewable sources. But instead, fossil fuels have made up much of the shortfall.

The hand that once fed German industry -- now stands as a rusting relic.

The Zollverein Mining complex still stretches over one million square meters -- but as a World Heritage site.

In-house historian Frank Kerner says without the minerals beneath the soil here -- Germany might look very different.

"All the energy you need to build up steam engines or something -- it's only coal. This was for nearly 200 years, the energy we needed for industrialization. Without coal, the effects would have been completely -- totally -- other ways," Kerner said.

Coal's heyday may be long gone in Germany: as oil, natural gas -- and then renewable energy began to take over. But it's not quite confined to history.

These days there's only one operational shaft left in the entire Ruhr valley, and that'll be phased out by 2018 as Germany looks beyond fossil fuels. And yet after 2011, coal production - and therefore national CO2 emissions -- actually started going up.

After Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster - Germany pledged to quickly phase out nuclear power  and replace it with one of the most ambitious renewable energy programs in the developed world. But there's still a shortfall So to keep the country's export-driven economy moving: it's turned again to coal. And even after last year's Paris climate deal, politicians are struggling to change course.

"In Germany there has been an attempt to increase the price of CO2 by having a CO2 tax for all coal-fired power stations - but this has been heavily opposed by the coal lobby, so we don't have a tax, we have a coal subsidy: and it's not really working," said Claudia Kemfert, from German Institute of Economic Research.

When Zollverein shut down in phases during the 1980s and 90s, historian Kerner says all workers were placed in new jobs. Unions say that would not likely happen today.

But without a rapid shift away from the dirtiest of fossil fuels - Germany could be on track to miss the very emissions targets it's so vigorously been pushing for.

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