November 9, 2016 / 1:12 AM / 2 years ago

German economy minister blocks agreement on climate change plan

BERLIN, Nov 9 (Reuters) - German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, on Tuesday blocked a tentative agreement on a climate action plan that aims to reduce the country’s CO2 emissions by 55 percent by 2030, amid concerns raised by a mining union, government officials said.

Given Gabriel’s unexpected veto, which came late on Tuesday, the draft plan would no longer be agreed on Wednesday as expected by the right/centre-left cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, the official said.

The plan details how Europe’s biggest economy expects to move away from fossil fuels and meet its objective of cutting CO2 emissions by 95 percent by 2050. It would implement pledges made by Germany as part of a global climate treaty agreed in Paris in December.

State secretaries for all government ministries, including the Economics Ministry, and most ministers had approved the plan on Monday, paving the way for the cabinet to approve it Wednesday, ahead of global climate talks in Morocco next week.

However, German trade union IG BCE, with the support of the large BDI industry group, worked hard to block the plan, raising concerns about a commission included in the draft plan that was to focus on Germany’s exit from brown coal.

Gabriel, Merkel and their respective parties are gearing up for a contentious national election in September 2017, in which unions like IG BCE could play a large role. Tensions have grown between the two parties on a series of issues in recent months.

The draft climate plan did not include a timetable for phasing out the production of brown coal, but Gabriel has said he expected it to remain in use through 2040.

Gabriel discussed the future of brown coal with Merkel on Tuesday evening, according to sources familiar with the matter.

His ministry was not immediately available to comment.

It was not immediately clear when the draft plan could be presented to the cabinet again, or if Gabriel had set conditions for its approval.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, also a member of Gabriel’s Social Democrats, had hoped to present Germany’s climate plan at next week’s talks in Morocco, and was surprised by his last minute veto, an official with the ministry said.

Sources said Gabriel’s ministry had already won significant changes in key energy and coal provisions this summer, with the proposal tweaked further at the urging of the economics wing of the conservative Christian Democrats. (Reporting by Markus Wacket, writing by Andrea Shalal, editing by G Crosse)

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