It was only a few days ago that a message triggered joy among climate protectionists. The Berlin think tank Agora Energiewende presented a preliminary annual balance sheet after which German greenhouse gas emissions dropped to a record low in 2019. Agora estimated the annual minus at just over 50 million tons of CO2. Even the Federal Government's goal of reducing the emission of climate-damaging gases by 40 percent by 2020 compared to the 1990 baseline by 2020 was thus "within reach", it said. 35 percent have been reached. That sounded surprisingly optimistic. The decline in the previous year was not caused by the federal government. But primarily through European emissions trading.

And there is little evidence that politicians could actually make serious efforts this year to make up the missing five percentage points.

The expansion of wind and solar systems is stalling. The federal government's climate package will only begin to take effect in the coming year. Probably the only way to achieve anything in 2020: start now as quickly as possible with the most controversial - but most important - climate policy project in Germany, the coal phase-out. "You could quickly take coal power plants off the grid, that would bring something for 2020," said Agora spokesman Christoph Podewils. "But nothing is happening now."

Waiting for a year

The exit is making no progress, although the coal commission already outlined the necessary steps in its final report a year ago. At that time, Chancellor Angela Merkel accepted the recommendations benevolently. Now she is taking on the matter again: This Wednesday Merkel invites the prime ministers of the federal states affected by the coal phase-out to the Chancellery to clarify issues. If things go well, the top meeting could lead to groundbreaking decisions about possible shutdown dates and money.

But that would only settle a partial conflict, because negotiations with coal-fired electricity suppliers are running in parallel. And hangs together.

It was clear from the start that it would not be easy. The talks in the coal commission already showed how difficult it would be to say goodbye. They were long and slow, and in the end, some members were reluctant to agree to the final report. They said the recommendations in it were of insufficient benefit to climate protection. But in order not to stop the coal exit any further, they still voted yes.

Money decided, not exit

In the report, the Commission recommended to the Federal Government to decommission lignite-fired power plants with a capacity of three gigawatts and hard coal-fired power plants with four gigawatts by 2022. Another six gigawatts of lignite and seven gigawatts of hard coal should follow by 2030. By 2038, or maybe three years earlier, the exit should be complete. In return, the affected regions should receive 40 billion euros, and the energy companies should also be compensated.

The law on the 40 billion euros for the regions - called the Structural Strengthening Act - has meanwhile been passed through the cabinet of the federal government. However, the coal phase-out law, which is supposed to regulate when and which power plant goes offline, has been around for months. A few times it was said that soon it would be discussed in the cabinet. Each time the appointment was postponed again. The lead Federal Ministry of Economics does not provide any information on the status of the negotiations. Probably because the interests are so complicated and you don't want to mess with any of the parties involved.