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German voters would prefer a more ambitious timeline to phase out coal

While a government commission recently proposed to phase out coal in Germany by 2038, voters would prefer a phase-out by 2025. Policymakers may underestimate public willingness to support an expedited transition away from high-carbon sources of energy.

Messages for policy

  • A more ambitious timeline for phasing out coal would be better aligned with voters’ preferences in Germany.

  • Although voters are willing to incur additional costs for a phase-out by 2025, every €10 increase in annual household cost decreases voter support by about seven percentage points.

  • In coal-producing regions, creating new jobs in low-carbon industries is important to voters and can outweigh concerns about job losses.

  • In the area of the energy transition, systematic incorporation of the views of the population into future government commission recommendations could lead to more publically acceptable policies.

  • Raising awareness for the scientific consensus on climate change could foster public acceptance of ambitious climate policies.

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Further Reading

  • Markard, J. The next phase of the energy transition and its implications for research and policy. Nat. Energy 3, 628–633 (2018). A transition studies perspective that sheds light on the phenomena of the ‘second phase’ of the energy transition, including the decline of established business models and technologies, intensified economic and political struggles of key actors, and challenges for the overall functioning of the electricity sector.

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  • Montt, G. et al. Does climate action destroy jobs? An assessment of the employment implications of the 2-degree goal. Int. Labour Rev. 157, 519–556 (2018). A quantitative scenario analysis of the worldwide employment impact of an energy sector transformation in line with the 2° C goal, which finds that by 2030 most economies will experience net job creation and reallocation across industries.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leipprand, A. & Flachsland, C. Regime destabilization in energy transitions: the German debate on the future of coal. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 40, 190–204 (2018). An investigation of stakeholders’ framing strategies and proposed policy solutions for phasing out coal in Germany.

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  • Pfeiffer, A., Hepburn, C., Vogt-Schilb, A. & Caldecott, B. Committed emissions from existing and planned power plants and asset stranding required to meet the Paris Agreement. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 054019 (2018). An analysis that compares CO 2 emission commitments from power plants with the remaining carbon budget and derives the likely amount of stranded assets that would be required to meet the 1.5 °C–2 °C global warming goal.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rinscheid, A. & Wüstenhagen, R. Divesting, fast and slow: affective and cognitive drivers of fading voter support for a nuclear phase-out. Ecol. Econ. 152, 51–61 (2018). An analysis of cognitive and affective drivers of voters’ preferences in the context of the popular vote to phase out nuclear power in Switzerland.

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We acknowledge support by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, the Swiss Center of Competence for Energy Research (SCCER) CREST, the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant no. P1SGP1_174939) and Greenpeace Germany, who funded data collection. Design of the research project and data analysis were the sole responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Adrian Rinscheid.

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Rinscheid, A., Wüstenhagen, R. German voters would prefer a more ambitious timeline to phase out coal. Nat Energy 4, 1016–1017 (2019).

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