The german consensus on coal phase out: It must be just

The coal phase-out is accompanied by a boost of renewable energy expansion. The aim is to combine the expansion of wind and solar power, phasing out coal, and structural change in achieving a socially just, reliable, and legally certain exit from coal. 

Coal was on the top of the COP26 agenda. The topic is highly debated due to the severe climate effects and the immense numbers of jobs the coal industry produces. 

We know the transition towards carbon neutrality will bring considerable obstacles for a number of workers, as job functions are phased-out, and as new skills requirements arise. These workers need to know that there are security and solutions for them. 

In Glasgow, challenges related to the transition lead to a last-minute pushback from India and China. The “phase-out” of coal power was reformulated to a “phase-down”.

Despite this push-back, it is the first time fossil fuels are included in a COP-agreement, which makes for a historical, international commitment nevertheless. 

How Germany paves the way towards coal phase out 

Germany is taking an important step towards climate neutrality. Last year, as the Bundestag and the Bundesrat adopted a new law, committing to phase-out coal power by 2038. 

Very recently, in November this year, Germany’s Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats took the plan one ambitions step further, agreeing to phase-out coal by 2030.

The changes and challenges the transition away from coal poses for workers, calls for the active involvement of all affected parts throughout the process, securing that we reach the most inclusive and just solutions possible.

The German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) has expressed great support for the way the negotiation process was handled during last year’s consensus, as it was based on active involvement of affected actors through the recommendations of “the Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment”. 

On 3 July 2020, the phase-out of coal power was adopted by German law, together with the “Act on Structural Change in Coal Mining Area”, intended to help the most affected regions manage the structural transition. 

The coal phase-out is accompanied by a boost of renewable energy expansion. The aim is to combine the expansion of wind and solar power, phasing out coal, and structural change in achieving a socially just, reliable, and legally certain exit from coal. 

However, the coal phase-out will only be a success if the transition is just, to this end it is crucial that successful policies towards a just transition is put in place. 

The coal phase-out must be just 

In the note “The German Consensus on Coal: Successful Policies Towards a Just Transition”, the DGB expresses its opinions on last year’s consensus, together with four recommendations for how the transition towards carbon-neutrality can be as just as possible:

  1. Workers are key for the just transition: to create trust and acceptance at the workplaces, decent work, collective agreements and co-determination must be strengthened. Workers are key as they hold intricate knowledge of the sectors due to their activities on the ground, providing them with the power to innovate. Increased training and further education can increase this power and provide the workers with qualifications to better prepare them for the future. 
  2. Leaving no one behind: the ensuring of a fair transition in terms of working people by the trade unions. This is the only way to ensure long-term acceptance for the necessary changes. This means active involvement of affected stakeholders in the decision-making process, and considering effects on the ground.
  3. The need for a political framework: as trade unions are experienced in balancing conflicting goals and developing reliable results they must take part in the decision-making process. Leaving the transition to the market could end up in social dumping, therefore, structural change must be shaped by governments cooperating with unions and employers. A stable political framework can bring decent work, sustainable prosperity and climate protection. 
  4. Investing in climate protection, prosperity and decent work: massive investments are needed to deal with the challenges posed by the transforming of regions, societies and economies. This is necessary for transforming the economy towards carbon neutrality, and to strengthen social cohesion and equal living conditions. The investments are a contribution to a sustainable way of production, increased competitiveness, prosperity and employment.

Just Transition requires involvement of all stakeholders 

On 6 June 2018, the German federal government convened the “Commission on growth, structural change and employment” for the negotiations on the consensus – aiming for a politically desired social and economic way to phase-out coal. 

During negotiations, the Commission executed field visits to get familiar with actual conditions on the ground. At the end, the Commission adopted a 278 pages long report, gaining strong acceptance across all stakeholders and the political sphere.

The Commission was composited by 31 members, and for the inclusion of different perspectives – chosen from relevant stakeholder-groups such as trade unions, politics, administration, environmental organizations, affected regions, science and the energy industry. 

Stefan Körzell, member of DGB’s executive board has described the coal consensus as an historical milestone, due to its consideration of all affected parts. This is reflected both in the variety of the Commission members, and their regular field visits.

DGB expresses that only through securing workers’ rights and the livelihoods of affected regions and people can the transition be managed in a fair way. Therefore, the transition towards a low-carbon future must bring together sustainable wealth, decent work, and climate action. 

The consensus aims for adequate social protection for the workers, active shaping of structural change to create new perspectives for regions and workers, creation of decent jobs, and the participation of trade unions in collective bargaining agreements.

The Trade Union Confederation supports the way in which the consensus was reached. The Commission proves how diverse interests can merge for a common future, through establishing opportunities for the affected, meeting international commitments, and gaining strong social acceptance. 


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The German Trade Union Confederation (2019). DGB-Paper: Successful Policies Towards a Just 

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