Gore, Calderon spotlight Sweden and Germany’s coal dilemma

Influential former politicians and climate advocates weigh in on controversial Vattenfall brown coal deal

Al Gore (Pic: Flickr/World Economic Forum)


Two global statesmen and climate advocates weighed in on Europe’s most controversial fossil fuel deal this week.

Al Gore and former Mexico president Felipe Calderon tweeted that Sweden and Germany should keep coal in the ground.

The intervention is a coded reference to Swedish state-owned utility Vattenfall’s planned sale of German brown coal mines and power stations.

Campaigners say the prospective buyer, Czech firm EPH, cannot be trusted to close the assets responsibly, in line with international climate goals. A recent poll showed Swedish voters were inclined to oppose the deal.

Stockholm must decide whether to allow the transaction, but is dithering. Sources close to the matter do not now expect an answer before mid-August.

Meanwhile, a draft climate plan leaked to Reuters suggests Berlin is backing away from setting a phaseout timetable for coal-fired power generation.

That was expected to be a core part of the strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions 95% from 1990 levels by 2050, but faced an industry backlash.

Martin Vogel of the Church of Sweden International Department welcomed pressure from such prominent international figures.

“We see this as a responsibility for human rights and climate justice,” he told Climate Home. “This matter is not solely the interest of Swedish national politics nor German national politics…

“It shows the weight of the matter when heavyweight climate champions deem it worthy of their engagement.”

Report: Sweden faces climate test as voters oppose brown coal sale

Vattenfall says the deal would shrink its carbon footprint from 80 million tonnes to 25Mt a year – an amount greater than Sweden’s entire emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Its head of public affairs, Sabine Froning, argued in an article on the corporate website that the mines’ future was a matter for the German government.

“The success of the German Energiewende [energy policy] is in my opinion totally independent from whether the Swedish government authorizes the sale or not,” she said.

The latest leaked document suggests the Reichstag is in no hurry to tackle this major emissions source, however. Rather than set a deadline, it says “the importance of power production from coal will decrease”.

“It is a big disappointment,” said Jan Kowalzig, Berlin-based climate expert with Oxfam. “The government has caved in under industry pressure as if the Paris Agreement never happened and as if climate change wasn’t becoming the biggest threat to human development around the globe.”

Greenpeace is proposing the two governments set up a foundation to wind down the operations in a socially and environmentally responsible way.

International director Jennifer Morgan outlined the proposal in newspaper Handelsblatt. “Together, the two countries can breathe life into the Paris Agreement by keeping the coal in Lusatia in the ground,” she wrote, as translated by Clean Energy Wire.

Sharan Burrow, head of the International Trade Union Confederation, also urged politicians to work together to protect employees in the transition.

“Don’t sell out workers and the climate Sweden – a just transition requires a deal with Germany,” she tweeted.

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