Europe returns to coal – Germany, France, Austria and other European countries return to polluting energy

Faced with the brutal increase in the price of energy and the reduction in imports of Russian gas, several European countries such as Germany, France or Austria are reopening their coal-fired power plants. A decision that contradicts the European environmental commitments to put an end to these particularly polluting plants.

By Raphael Moran

France, July 18 (RadioFranceInternational).- In less than six months, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the reduction of imports of gas russian to Europe have destabilized the energy market. Prices that were already on the rise with the post-pandemic recovery have risen. And already planning a shortage of Energy in Europewhere several European countries have opted for something hitherto unthinkable: temporarily reopen their coal-fired power plants to replace the fuels Russians.

Low-cost, this energy source is also the one that emits the largest amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, recalls Francisco del Pozo, coordinator of the area of fossil fuels in the NGO Greenpeace Spain. “It can be between 600 and a thousand grams per kilowatt per hour. If we compare it with the gaswe would have lower amounts between 400 and 600 grams of CO2 per KV/H”, details the activist, interviewed by RFI.

Despite the European commitment to eliminate this energy source that contributes strongly to the greenhouse effect, several countries backed down.

Photo of a coal power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Photo: Martin Meissner, AP

In Austria, workers were mobilized to reactivate the Mellach coal plant, in France, the closure of one of the last coal plants in the country located in Saint Avold was postponed while Italy, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands also lifted restrictions on coal-fired power generation.

Germany, for its part, Europe’s leading industrial power, has stopped buying Russian gas and will use coal, authorities announced.

“The decisions to use more coal in electricity production is not good news for the climate,” warns Lola Vallejo. The energy transition expert at the Paris-based think tank IDDRI explains that Europe is facing two crises: the reduction in Russian gas imports, which are down 40 percent since June, and the necessary energy transition.

Of particular concern is the situation in Germany, which is particularly dependent on Russian gas and coal and has renounced nuclear power.

A Russian construction worker talks on a mobile phone during a ceremony marking the start of construction of the Nord Stream pipeline in Portovaya Bay, some 170 km (106 miles) northwest of Saint Petersburg, Russia, on April 9. from 2010.
A Russian construction worker talks on a mobile phone during a ceremony marking the start of construction of the Nord Stream pipeline in Portovaya Bay, some 170 km (106 miles) northwest of Saint Petersburg, Russia, on April 9. 2010. Photo: Dmitry Lovetsky, AP


Coal now accounts for a third of electricity generation. Danny Carvajal, activist of Colombian origin and leader in Germany of the #VidaNoCarbón campaign that brings together 165 organizations from 28 countries, warns about the consequences of this shortage.

And in our globalized world, the Russian gas embargo will end up impacting countries on the other side of the planet. On April 6, German Chancellor Olaf Schulz had a telephone conversation with his Colombian counterpart Iván Duque in which they agreed to increase Colombian coal exports to Germany to replace Russian gas and coal.

But the local populations of La Guajira, a Colombian region where much of the coal is extracted, fear that the reactivation of El Cerrejón, the main coal mine to respond to German demand, will aggravate deforestation and human rights violations. Danny Carvajal, Colombian activist of the #VidaNoCarbón campaign calls for a halt to coal exports to Germany. “There is a meeting point of the crises, because there is a humanitarian crisis in Colombia of systematic environmental destruction,” he explains.

Buy Russian gas and finance the war in Ukraine or import Colombian coal to the detriment of ecological and social rights? To get out of this deadly alternative, the experts are unanimous: developing green energy sources such as wind power will not be enough. “We will have to resort more to renewable energy sources,” urges Lola Vallejo, an expert in energy transition.

Abandoning coal is not only an urgency for countries like Germany or Poland that generate 70 percent of their electricity with this energy source. Giants like China or India also face this challenge. Asia accounts for 70 percent of global coal production and its production increased by more than six percent in 2021, according to the Enerdata observatory.

Although temporary, the reopening of coal-fired power plants, and the increase in global production of this highly climate-destroying fuel, shows that the energy transition is a fragile trend. Environmental NGOs insist in Europe, the priority is to reduce energy consumption and waste to stop the race to extractivism.


Radio France International