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Germany’s new energy instrument would mean better health

The government’s plans to increase efforts to cut CO2 emissions from the power sector, in particular coal, have been met with fierce resistance. In letters to chancellor Merkel, economic minister Gabriel and health minister Groehe, HEAL and member WECF underline that these plans are not only good news for the climate, but also for health, and they should not be weakened.

Germany has seen heated public debates ever since a paper that details plans to achieve additional CO2 reductions in the power sector was recently leaked.

The economic and energy minister Sigmar Gabriel is proposing a new climate allowance system that applies to power plants older than 20 years. Each power plant will receive allowances for 7 million to 3 million tonnes (depending on the age of the plant) of CO2 emissions per Gigawatt. If plants exceed their emission cap, operators will have to buy additional certificates at a fixed price of 18-20 EUR per tonne of CO2. This instrument therefore provides an incentive to scale back production in old and inefficient coal power plants. Yet the government estimates that 90% of the fossil plant fleet would not be affected.

This approach builds on the realisation that without further decarbonisation efforts the country will miss its national goal of -40% GHG emission reductions by 2020. In December 2014, the government had already adopted a climate action plan that prioritises energy efficiency and CO2 emissions in the transport and power sectors. The leaked paper is now the next step to spell out concrete measures.

HEAL, its member Women in Europe for a Common Future Germany and other health partners think these plans are welcome news not only for the climate, but also for the health of Germans and Europeans.

Coal power plants in Germany are responsible for over a third of the country’s CO2 emissions, and German lignite coal plants make up 4 out of 5 of the largest emitters in Europe.

In addition, these coal plants also emit large volumes of hazardous air pollutants including particulate matter, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides but also mercury, contributing to making already poor air quality in Germany and Europe worse.

There is a solid body of evidence demonstrating the manifold impacts from air pollution including on lung and heart health, but also particularly on children’s healthy development and even linking air pollution to diabetes.

An assessment by carried out for HEAL by an independent economic expert shows that Germany’s coal power plants are responsible for the second highest health bill from coal power in Europe, topped only by Poland. The health costs from coal in Germany add a financial burden to the European population of over 6 million EUR per year.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) also ranks several individual German coal plants among those with the highest health costs in Europe. The coal plants of Jänschwalde, Niederaußem, Lippendorf, Boxberg, Neurath, Eschweiler and Frimmersdorf are among the thirty top polluters, with Jänschwalde in East Germany being the power plant causing the 4th highest health costs from coal in Europe.

Both HEAL’s and the EEA’s assessment do not consider the health costs that are caused by the emissions of mercury from coal plants. Coal power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in Europe; and 60% of the mercury deposition into the environment in industrial zones are from European emissions.

HEAL and member WECF Germany have written to German chancellor Angela Merkel, economic minister Sigmar Gabriel and health minister Hermann Groehe, urging them to show climate leadership and fully implement the new instrument without any weakening.

HEAL/WECF Letter to Chancellor Merkel

HEAL/WECF Letter to Minister Gabriel

HEAL/WECF Letter to Minister Groehe petition to Chancellor Merkel to maintain Germany’s reputation as a climate leader:

Originally posted on 9 April 2015

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The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is a leading European not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects health in the European Union (EU). We demonstrate how policy changes can help protect health and enhance people’s quality of life. Read more »


HEAL has over 70 member organisations, representing health professionals, not-for-profit health insurers, doctors, nurses, cancer and asthma groups, citizens, women’s groups, youth groups, environmental NGOs, scientists and public health institutes. Members include international and Europe-wide organisations, as well as national and local groups. Read more »

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