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How a Manufactured Migrant Crisis Showed That Europe’s Last Dictator Can Rattle the E.U.

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Perhaps the greatest success the sclerotic dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko has racked up this week has been seeing a host of Western news reports refer to grim scenes at the Belarusian-Polish border as a “migration crisis,” the implication being that it’s happened organically, as it did seven years ago–the tragic byproduct of war, poverty and terrorism. A more accurate description would be that an authoritarian regime and its aptly named KGB security service manufactured this crisis, exploiting human suffering and the simple desire for a better life as a cynical instrument of foreign policy.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people, mostly from the Middle East, are now huddled in freezing campsite tents awaiting permission to enter the European Union because Lukashenko decided to turn men, women and children into battering rams as retaliation for E.U. sanctions and diplomatic isolation owing to his theft of last year’s presidential election; his ongoing imprisonment and torture of political opponents; and his hijacking of a European airliner earlier this year to arrest a dissident journalist who was on board. It is the yield, in other words, of an increasingly erratic and desperate strongman who takes hostages and then chooses to negotiate with those seeking their release by taking more of them.

Lukashenko is not exactly shy about his strategy. He boasts about it in advance. In June, his regime faked a bomb scare aboard the Vilnius-bound RyanAir Flight 4978, dangerously forcing it (with the “escort” of fighter jets) to divert to Minsk in order to kidnap Roman Protasevich, a pro-opposition journalist on board. Days after he declared what would happen if the West chose to do anything about his brazen act of piracy, which it did first of all by banning European travel via Belarusian air space. He would release human traffickers and drug smugglers into the E.U., he said, later adding that these would also be joined by “armed migrants,” a double entendre because his aim was always to use them as weapons.

Good to his word, soon more than 470 sub-Saharan Africans, Syrians, and Iraqis, mainly hailing from the Kurdistan region, turned up at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. Lukashenko then declared he could do nothing about this nearly sevenfold increase in Lithuania’s annual asylum-seekers because, alas, he had “neither the money nor the energy due to sanctions.” A movie mobster played by Joe Pesci might have found that shakedown a touch unartful.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during a cabinet meeting in Minsk on Nov. 11. Lukashenko on Thursday called the Russian bomber flights a necessary response to the tensions on the Belarus-Poland border.

Nikolay Petrov–Pool/BelTA/AP

Belarusian authorities were actively helping migrants cross the border, for example by bringing them to less patrolled areas where they could cross undetected, and even providing them with wire cutters.

An official in Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government explained to us how this bespoke Belarusian Expedia program works. “There are travel agents all over the Middle East, a select number of whom ring up families who aren’t exactly poor, but nor are they what you’d call well-off. The travel agents tell these people: ‘I’m going to get you into the EU in a few days. I’ll get you your visa, book your hotel, your flight–all you have to do is fly to Baghdad and I’ll take it from there.’ It costs maybe $3,000 per person. And guess what? If they can beg, borrow or steal the cost of doing so, they’re getting on that plane.” The Belarusian Embassy in Baghdad, the official added, has been running a no-questions-asked “visa-mill” for months to facilitate the entire scheme.

Contrast that to the refugee and migrant waves of 2015, when thousands drowned trying desperately to smuggle themselves into Europe via the Mediterranean aboard boats and rafts. The majority of the Iraqis coming to Belarus, the Kurdish official clarified, are not internally displaced from other parts of Iraq owing to the still-roiling military campaign against ISIS. Rather, most come from Kurdistan, a comparatively stable enclave in the Middle East albeit mired in corruption and clan-based oligarchy and precariously reliant on oil prices for economic well-being. Even so, many of its inhabitants would have stayed put were it not for a once-in-a-lifetime (and too good to be true) offer of relocating to the continent.

Iraqi travel agencies have lately been advertising heavily on social media. Research conducted by one of us with Semantic Visions, a Prague-based risk assessment company, found that Arabic-language groups primarily on Facebook featured discussions of entering the EU via the Belarusian-Lithuanian border as early as March 2021. The route was sold as especially promising because it was (falsely) stated that the Belarusians don’t guard their border. Not coincidentally, at around the same time, the number of direct flights from Baghdad to Minsk, many offered by Belavia, Belarus’ state-run airline, began to increase.

Nor was it a coincidence that Lithuania was Lukashenko’s first target. The neighboring Baltic state has been outspoken in its solidarity with Belarus’s swelling ranks of dissidents and civil society actors and has become a much-needed triage center and waystation for many in the midst of Lukashenko’s year-long internal crackdown. Vilnius is now the residence in exile of what its government together with the EU calls the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whose husband Sergei Tikhanovsky had originally tried to run for the office but was arrested before the vote.

In the face of the sudden onrush of visitors, Lithuanians were rapidly forced to set up detention centers and make clear that asylum would not be granted except in extreme circumstances. The government also stipulated that transit to Germany–the preferred final destination of many of the migrants–would not be facilitated. As Lithuania intercepted more migrants, the Belarusian Border Guard started blocking them from reentering Belarusian territory, trapping them in a no-man’s-land between two countries bisected by razor wire fence.

Poland was Lukashenko’s second target. Warsaw, too, has been a prominent defender of Belarusian democrats (even if Poland’s own democracy has seen better days). In mid-July, President Andrzej Duda sent a convoy of humanitarian aid to Lithuania, whose authorities were struggling to manage the unprecedented migrant influx. Then, in August, he offered asylum to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the Belarusian Olympic sprinter who defected during the Tokyo games after criticizing her coaches, creating more PR headaches for a dictator who already had a surfeit of them. As of November 11, there were more than 32,000 blocked migrant attempts to cross the Belarusian-Polish border: 3,500 were made in August, almost 7,700 in September, and some 17,300 in October.

Migrants warm themselves by campfires in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border on Nov. 14

Oksana Manchuk–TASS/Getty Images

A series of EU diplomatic interventions with Middle Eastern governments to turn off the spigot of unwelcome arrivals led to a noticeable reduction of direct flights to Minsk. But then would-be migrants began searching for ways to circumvent the new restrictions. Smugglers, many of them based in Germany, filled the void, promising access to their country via Poland. Research conducted by Semantic Visions found that these human traffickers hawked their services and low prices on social media, along with thank-you videos from those they claimed they’d successfully delivered to Germany. In late October, Berlin increased patrols along the border with Poland, having already stopped around 5,000 migrants who’d turned up via Belarus since August.

According to Linas Linkevicius, the former Lithuanian foreign minister who oversaw Belarus’ post-election fallout, six months ago Lukashenko at least had the politesse to attempt his migration gambit under the cover of darkness. “Now he’s doing it in broad daylight, and along a much longer border, and he’s filming it for the world to see,” Linkevicius said. “It also doesn’t bode well that he insists he is not mad about three times per week. This is something, in my experience, a sane person seldom has to do.”

Maybe so, but the more belligerent approach toward Poland was almost certainly calculated. Warsaw’s declared state of emergency has been widely criticized both internally and externally, particularly as journalists and aid workers have been prohibited from monitoring the scenes at the border. Several migrants have already died of exposure in the Polish forest. In addition, the country’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has helmed the government since 2015, has weakened Poland’s standing with the European Commission following a series of illiberal encroachments on the impartiality of the Polish judiciary and the independence of the press.

Gen. Pyotr Pytel, the former chief of Polish military counterintelligence, argued that Belarus’s manufactured border crisis has already bled into a domestic Polish political one. “If you listen to what right-wing media are saying, they are using the lexicon of war, portraying these migrants as barbarians looking to destroy Poland. The chief of our central bank just announced the creation of a Polish cryptocurrency to commemorate our fight against the Belarusians, as if this were 1920 all over again,” Pytel said, referring to the thwarted Soviet invasion of a newly independent Poland.

PiS, according to Pytel, is in “big trouble” politically because of mounting inflation, and an unpopular and draconian anti-abortion law it instituted. Elections are two years off, and now an embattled populist party has seized upon a new civilizational narrative in its defense, which Pytel summarized as: “We’re being invaded by Arabs and Kurds from America’s failed wars in the Middle East.” Not exactly rhetoric bound to endear Warsaw further with the European Commission, but then, counting on Polish overreach could well have been one of the goals of this provocation.

Which begs the question: did totally-not-crazy Lukashenko come up with this gambit all on his own, or is he being quietly nudged or assisted by a more resourceful third party?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko talks to each other standing on the boat during their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 29.

Sergei Ilyin–Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo/AP

Pytel suggests that the Kremlin’s role in this affair is hardly that of a passive observer. He points to two fateful meetings earlier in the year, the first a heavily publicized one on May 28 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko in the Russian subtropical city of Sochi. Coming a mere week after the RyanAir skyjacking, that choreographed confab, all smiles and Kate-and-Leo parodied embraces aboard Putin’s yacht, served two purposes. It was an obvious ring-kissing opportunity for Lukashenko to profess his fealty to his indispensable patron to the east; but it was also a way of telegraphing to the U.S. and EU that Putin was the man to see about putting his renegade client back in his box. As one senior Western intelligence official put it, “Moscow wants to force Minsk to burn its last remaining bridges to the West, make itself look good in comparison to crazy Luka, and test EU and NATO resiliency against hybrid threats.”

The second, less-publicized meeting occurred six days later, on June 3, in the Belarusian city of Vitebsk. It was between Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR), and Ivan Tertel, the head of Belarus’ KGB. “In the spirit of traditionally fraternal relations,” the SVR said in an after-action statement, “Russia’s SVR and Belarus’ KGB have agreed to work together to counter Western destructive activities aimed at destabilizing the political and socioeconomic situation in the Union State.” The latter term refers to a 1999 bilateral integration treaty the Kremlin has lately sought to broaden into something approaching a soft merger between Russia and Belarus, which has so far been loath to chip away its own sovereignty in exchange for protection. But note twinned casualty in this statement: actions taken against Belarus are considered actions taken against Russia.

Pytel thinks the enhanced coordination between intelligence services is already apparent. Weeks after the Naryshkin-Tertel conclave, emails of Poland’s leaders, including those allegedly belonging to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Michal Dworczyk, the chief of the Polish chancellery, were leaked on the encrypted Russian messaging platform Telegram. The communication showed these politicians discussing, among other things, deploying the military to disperse abortion law protestors and mocking Poland’s state-owned television. (The government claims at least some of the correspondence was fake.) Using compromised passwords, the cyber-operators also commandeered the social media accounts of three Polish officials and fabricated English-language websites to tendentiously promote the contents of the breach.

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Polish intelligence assessed at the time that the emails were hacked by UNC1151, a group it determined was linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency, or GRU, an analysis confirmed by the EU’s Computer Emergency Response Team. German intelligence also believes the GRU responsible after members of the Bundestag and German state parliaments were hit by the same hack-and-leak group, encompassed under the so-called “Ghostwriter” influence campaign. For the last several years Ghostwriter has targeted countries mostly on Belarus’ periphery, condemning and spreading disinformation about NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. However, on November 16, Mandiant Threat Intelligence, a U.S. cybersecurity firm, released a report assessing with “high confidence” that UNC1151 is “linked to the Belarusian government,” although it did not rule out possible Russian involvement.

Ben Read, the Director of Cyber-Espionage Analysis at Mandiant, said it’s “definitely plausible” that UNC1151 could be a joint Russian-Belarusian endeavor. “Both security services were part of one country thirty years ago, and I’m sure there are people working for the KGB today who’ve been there over thirty years,” Read told us. As to the discrepant EU assessment, “well, governments have access to classified intelligence, things I can’t see on my computer screen.”

Whatever Russia’s role in fomenting or encouraging this manufactured crisis, the fact remains that it could have ended the problem overnight if it so chose simply by stopping, or threatening to stop, air traffic from the Middle East bound for Belarus –traffic that has had to pass through Russian airspace ever since Europe’s was closed off in June owing to the RyanAir skyjacking. The Kremlin proposed an alternative solution: the E.U. should pay Lukashenko to make the problem go away, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated in no uncertain terms on November 9, citing a 2016 deal under which the EU compensated Turkey to reabsorb migrants and refugees who had illegally entered Greece via the Aegean Sea.

For his part, Lukashenko seems to be redoubling his threats and going off-script in ways even Putin might find a touch inconvenient. On November 11, he threatened to cut off Europe’s supply of Russian gas, about twenty percent of which passes through the Yamal-Europe pipeline that goes through Belarus, unless Brussels caves to his demands to end sanctions and to be recognized as ongoing head of state.

The chances of that happening are slim and none. On November 15, the E.U. agreed to its fifth sanctions package on Belarus, no doubt impelled in large measure by the urgent consideration of state-linked entities and individuals complicit in the border chaos. According to one European official privy to the negotiations, a sixth sanctions package is already being discussed. Lukashenko is withdrawing migrants from the main border crossing in a gesture of deescalation.

What happens next depends on whether the E.U., often derided for its feckless expressions of being “gravely concerned” whenever the potash hits the fan, proves willing to call Lukashenko’s bluff. On one side, the Union State of metropole and satellite; on the other, a conglomerate of 27 nations which, whenever confronted with unforeseen hostility, typically devolves into fractiousness, paralysis, sops of the lowest common denominator.

Then again, Lukashenko may have fashioned a rod for his own back. “Belarus invited 15,000 migrants into the country and most of them are stuck there,” one European intelligence official told us. “Lukashenko doesn’t want them. So what’s he going to do? Feed and house them with the money he says he doesn’t have, let them freeze to death in the woods, or send them home?”

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Moderna Says New Vaccine for Omicron Variant May Be Ready in Early 2022

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Bloomberg — Moderna Inc. Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said he suspects the new omicron coronavirus variant may elude current vaccines, and if so, a reformulated shot could be available early in the new year.”We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks,” Burton said Sunday on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.”

“If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities,” he said. “The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna platform, is that we can move very fast,” he said.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company mobilized “hundreds” of staff early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., after news of the omicron variant spread.

Protection should still exist, depending on how long ago a person was vaccinated, and for now the best advice is to take one of the current Covid-19 vaccines, Burton said.

“If people are on the fence, and you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated,” he said. “This is a dangerous looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to fight it.”

The emergence of the omicron strain has seen countries rush to clamp down on travel from southern Africa. Fears that it could exacerbate a winter Covid surge in the northern hemisphere and undermine a global economic recovery sent a wave of risk aversion across global markets Friday that continued Sunday when the Middle East opened for the week.

Moderna said in a release on Friday that it was working rapidly to test the current vaccine against the omicron variant, and studying two booster candidates.

“Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern,” the company said. “The company has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to advance new candidates to clinical testing in 60 to 90 days.”

(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Europe’s Energy Crisis Is About to Get Worse As Winter Arrives

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Bloomberg — Energy prices in Europe are repeatedly breaking records even before winter really kicks in, and one of the most damaging cost crunches in history is about to get worse as the temperature starts to drop.A super price spike in the U.K. last month forced some industrial companies to cut production and seek state aid, a harbinger for what could play out widely in Europe just as it contends with a resurgence of the coronavirus. For governments, it could mean tension with neighboring countries by moving to protect supplies. For households, it could mean being asked to use less energy or even plan for rolling blackouts.

The trouble is that any fix is unlikely to come from the supply side any time soon, with exporters Russia piping only what it has to and Qatar saying it’s producing what it can. The energy industry is instead faced with relying on “demand destruction,” said Fabian Roenningen, an analyst at Rysted Energy.

“We have seen it over the last couple of months already, and in many industries, it will most likely continue and even increase,” he said from Oslo. “It’s just not profitable to operate for a lot of the players in the current market conditions.”

The outlook adds to the sense of foreboding in Europe. The region is back at the epicenter of the pandemic again with Covid-19 cases surging and fears about a new variant identified in South Africa swirling the globe. Restrictions are being tightened in some countries, while household budgets are being squeezed by rampant inflation. On top of that, freezing weather could mean the lights going out. A return to lockdown like in Austria would help curb power demand, though few governments want to do that.

France, Europe’s second biggest economy, is particularly at risk. The possibility of a chill in January and February is causing concern for the nation’s grid operator. Availability at nuclear stations, the workhorse of the French power system, is low after the pandemic delayed the maintenance of some reactors, according to a report on Nov. 22.

Power prices there are the highest since 2012 as a cold blast creeps into France and is expected to take hold by Monday when workday demand starts to rise.

Last winter, the grid operator appealed to households to use less energy at peak times and activated some demand reduction contracts with manufacturers when things got really tight. The next step would be to reduce voltage across the network and then rolling blackouts of two hours per region as a last resort. All that would come ahead of a presidential election.

“If there’s a deep cold snap and there’s no wind, things could become tight given the lesser availability of nuclear plants and the recent closure of dispatchable generation assets using coal,” said Nicolas Goldberg, a senior manager in charge of energy at Colombus Consulting in Paris. “If it’s getting really cold and there’s no wind, it may become a problem.”

France is also a key exporter of electricity to neighboring countries, meaning that the effects of a crisis would reverberate in Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain. Maximum demand is expected to be 80.7 gigawatts on Monday, still some way off the record 102 gigawatts from February 2012.

The situation is already so dire this early in the winter season because of a blistering rally in natural gas prices. Stores of the fuel, used to heat homes and to generate electricity, are lower than usual and are being depleted quickly. Analysts have warned that gas stores could drop to zero this winter if cold weather boosts demand.

Rolling blackouts are a possibility, warned Jeremy Weir, chief executive officer of Trafigura Group, a Swiss commodity trading house on Nov. 16.

“If the weather gets cold in Europe there’s not going to be an easy supply solution, it’s going to need a demand solution,” said Adam Lewis, partner at trading house Hartree Partners LP.

On the supply side, what Russia does next will be key. President Vladimir Putin signaled he would help Europe with more supplies to stabilize the market, but while shipments have recovered after a slump at the start of November, they are low compared with last year. How much gas Russia sends to Europe in December remains an even bigger mystery.

QuicktakeHow Europe Has Become So Dependent on Putin for Gas

The long-awaited start of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany from Russia would ease the continent’s energy crunch. The project is finished, but has run into regulatory hurdles and it’s unclear when flows will start.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, says it’s already producing gas at full capacity. The Gulf nation, which has low production costs thanks to an abundance of easy-to-extract fuel, has ordered six more LNG ships from South Korea on top of four tankers purchased from China in October.

If things get really bad, countries could resort to curbing sales of natural gas to other regions. An even more extreme scenario could see them halt flows of gas and power to one another, sparking political acrimony and hitting economies.

The European Union has what it calls solidarity principles that are supposed to prevent any state blocking exports of power or gas and leaving another member short, especially when it comes to supplies for households.

The solidarity, though, has never been tested in a wide-scale crisis and grid operators say that they’re allowed to stop or alter power flows through inter-country cables if they have security of supply issues. When the nicknamed “Beast from the East” hit at the end of February 2018, it was quite late into the heating season. This year, it’s likely that a less severe weather event could have a similar impact.

“It shows how exposed Europe’s power system is to the volatility in commodity prices,” said Roenningen in Oslo. “In the short term, there’s not a lot that can be done.”

(Updates with demand forecast in 10th paragraph.)

-With assistance from Francois De Beaupuy and Will Mathis.

To contact the author of this story:
Rachel Morison in London at rmorison@bloomberg.net

(C) 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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How Germany’s New Government Plans to Be the Greenest One Yet

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Among environmentalists, hopes have been running high for Germany’s new government. At elections this September, growing concern about climate change, boosted by the worst floods to hit the country in 500 years, helped the German Greens double their parliamentary seats.

Though the Greens’ performance wasn’t enough to win them the chancellorship, it gave them significant clout in coalition negotiations, which they promised to use to push through parts of their radical climate action program.

They have delivered–partly. On Wednesday the party unveiled a three-way coalition agreement with economic liberals the Free Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats, whose leader, Olaf Scholz, will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor. The deal contains a raft of measures to slash Germany’s greenhouse emissions, which remain high compared to many European neighbours because of its heavily industrial economy and greater reliance on coal.

The measures include a commitment to massively expand renewable energies, turning over 2% of national territory to the cause; a target to phase out coal by 2030, eight years earlier than previously planned; and a plan to weaponize foreign policy to drive shifts on climate abroad.

The Greens won the right to appoint the foreign minister, which will be party co-leader and former chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock, and the head of a “super ministry” for the economy and climate protection, which will be her co-leader Robert Habeck. They will also get to pick the ministers for agriculture and environmental conservation. “We are in charge of all key energy and climate ministries,” says Sven Giegold, a Green member of the European parliament, who was on the party’s core coalition negotiating team, “and we have a whole roadmap for a post-fossil future based on renewable energy.”

But some climate campaigners said they were frustrated by a lack of clarity on the timeline for Germany’s promised phase-out of fossil fuels. For example, many had hoped the agreement would set an end date for the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel that Germany and other European countries are increasingly using as a “bridge fuel” to reduce reliance on more-polluting coal and oil in the short-term. The European Environmental Bureau, a network of activist groups and NGOs, called the gas commitments “highly disappointing” and “a missed chance for Germany to give clear indications” to energy markets.

Gielgold says the new government is focused on ramping up renewables and their supporting technologies as fast as possible so that they can replace fossil fuels, rather than on the exact dates those fuels will leave the mix in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. “Honestly, it’s not the phasing out, but the phasing in, which will inspire others to act,” he said.

Here are the four key points in the German coalition’s plan on climate, and how they could affect the rest of the world:

Expanding renewable power

The coalition pledged to make the expansion of renewable energies “a central project” of its government. By 2030, the agreement says, 80% of Germany’s power generation will come from renewables–up from around 40% today. Experts say the target is comparable to the U.K.’s goal of reaching net zero on electricity generation by 2035, and the U.S.’ of hitting “100% carbon pollution-free electricity” by 2035.

To achieve it, the government plans to increase Germany’s solar capacity five-fold to 200GW, and off-shore wind more than four-fold to 40GW by 2030, with a mandate to accelerate designation of land for onshore wind power. The agreement also calls for a costly overhaul of Germany’s electricity grid geared towards solar, wind, and hydrogen.

Germany’s renewables push could be decisive for the rest of the E.U., restoring faltering cooperation on offshore wind and pressuring others to ramp up national spending in line with the bloc’s climate goals, according to Lisa Fischer, an energy transition expert at European climate think tank E3. “[The Greens] have sort of gone on the offensive: focusing on getting real ambition on renewables deployment, and perhaps they haven’t used their energy on putting in negative criteria on gas and coal as much,” Fischer says. “And the ambition level there is great. I do think it’s a game changer for Europe.”

Phasing out coal

Germany is the world’s fourth largest consumer of coal and has lagged far behind its western European neighbours on phasing it out, due to its large reserves of lignite coal, which it has historically relied upon to ensure its energy independence. Coal made up more than a quarter of German power production in the first half of 2021

The agreement says Germany will bring forward its coal exit from the 2038 date the previous government had set. “Ideally, this will be achieved by 2030,” it reads. Though some campaigners were frustrated by the lack of a firm commitment, energy experts say the worsening economic case for coal in Europe–due to E.U. regulations and market shifts– makes it likely the 2030 date will be met.

The accelerated timeline on coal will help pile pressure on Eastern and Central European countries who are aiming for later dates. Germany has historically wielded economic and political influence over those countries, but its message on coal has been muddled by its domestic reliance. “A 2030 German coal exit leaves nowhere to hide for Poland, Czechia and Bulgaria,” climate non-profit Ember said in a statement. “Those left behind will face high electricity prices, an uncompetitive economy, and increasing pressure to act.”

Cutting reliance on natural gas

Germany, like much of the rest of Europe, is highly reliant on natural gas for heating, a sector which makes up 12% of the E.U.’s carbon dioxide emissions. Countries face a costly drive to retrofit buildings to use renewable-powered electricity, or other renewable technologies, for heat.

The coalition agreement says that “all newly installed heating systems must be operated with 65% renewable energy by 2025”, but it is unclear how fast buildings will be expected to replace their systems. Meanwhile, an existing plan to build hydrogen-ready gas power plants, combined with the lack of an end date for natural gas use, leaves the door open to gas remaining part of electricity production for years to come.

Campaigners hope the German government will strengthen its gas targets next year, as part of a promised raft of new climate legislation, and as it participates in a long-awaited E.U. review of subsidies and taxes for the fuel.

Putting climate at the center of government

Some of the brightest lights in the coalition agreement come not from policies, but from the way that climate is positioned in the structure of the German government, with Green-leadership of “the traditionally important parts of German decision-making, like agriculture, foreign policy and the economy,” Fischer says.

In an interview with TIME before the September election, Baerbock said that her priority in coalition negotiations would be overhauling the current “totally stupid” situation where “every ministry does what they want and the environment ministry does the environment.” As foreign minister, Baerbock has pledged to align trade and aid with climate goals, and to use Germany’s leadership of the G7 in 2022 to encourage other wealthy countries to accelerate their investment in clean energy infrastructure.

But perhaps the most important ministry remains out of Green control. The Greens lost the battle to appoint the finance minister–one of the fiercest of the coalition negotiations–to the Free Democrats, whose leader Christian Linder will now take the post.

An influential industry lobby group said on Tuesday that the next government would need to spend some 860 billion euros by 2030 to trigger the emissions reductions it is calling for across the economy. It may be hard to extract that much from fiscal hawks the Free Democrats. Giegold, though, says that the consensus-based nature of German politics gives him confidence that the other two parties will stump up the money to meet their commitments. “Normally in Germany, we are dull, gray, and boring,” he says. “And that means we stick to what we have agreed.”

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