As Europe bakes, Germany agrees with a return to coal.

Europe is scorching,

Temperatures in some parts of the continent rose to dangerous highs again on Tuesday. The maximum temperature of London will be close to 40 degrees. Berlin will hit 35.

In the midst of an intense, dangerous heat wave, tough conversations are taking place across Europe about the future of energy, and how to prevent even more damage to the planet from burning fossil fuels.

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By their own admission, a growing number of the world’s energy companies say they need to transition to renewable energy.

“Future (of) electricity generation certainly belongs to renewable sources,” acknowledged Guido Steffen, spokesman for RWE, a leading German energy company.

But right now, with Europe in the grip of heat, the exact opposite is happening. Major countries like Germany and the Netherlands are turning to coal to make sure they have enough power to keep air conditioning running, and in some months, the heat on.

For decades, they have relied on gas imports from Russia, but now, with the war in Ukraine putting pressure on those supplies, there are fears of energy insecurity in the months ahead.

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Enter the village of Lützerth in the western corner of Germany.

These days, all that remains of this settlement are a few abandoned buildings and a cluster of trees.

The village is right in the middle of Germany’s “coal country” and is a snapshot of the fight for the future of energy in Europe.

Right behind the trees in the village lies a large hole – a huge opencast coal mine whose potential expansion environmentalists have been trying to block for years.

Coal is increasingly seen as a dying enterprise, but the mine, which houses lignite, the most polluting type of coal, is getting a new lease on life, albeit temporarily.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has begun a run on global energy supplies – oil, gas and, now, coal.

Major economies around the world are increasing their reliance on coal as a hedge against future energy shortages, even if it is temporary. This is pushing up the price of what was once called black gold.

Two years ago, the cost of coal was around US$ 50 a tonne. Today, it’s close to $400 and the big coal companies are cashing in. Glencore, an Anglo-Swiss coal mining giant Told It expects to generate trading profits of $3.2 billion in the first half of 2022. This compares to $3.7 billion for all of 2021.

Russia’s war with Ukraine has left Germany particularly vulnerable to rising energy prices.

Last year, 55 percent of Germany’s natural gas supply – needed to heat millions of homes in winter – came from Russia.

Now, with Germany’s natural gas tanks about 60 percent full (far below the level of 90 percent that it would like those reserves), there is interest in creating electricity from coal to protect those fragile gas reserves.

Adding to the concerns, planned maintenance work has closed the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Germany’s lifeline of Russian gas. There are concerns the Kremlin could delay gas shipments after work is completed.

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“No one knows what winter is coming,” says Rudolf Juchelka, a professor of economic geography at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, referring to the possibility of a reduction in gas supplies this winter.

“Everyone is terrified.”

While Germany has committed to shutting down coal – the dirtiest of fossil fuels – by 2030, there is a pragmatic idea being made, including by some environmentalists, that the country may have to wait a little longer to keep things running. There may be a need to depend on coal for this.

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Earlier this month, federal lawmakers, including members of the Green Party, approved a plan to allow coal-fired power plants to resume operations when needed. Germany’s economics minister Robert Hebeck called the move “painful but necessary”. Guardian Newspaper informed ofAnd industry leaders also welcomed it.

“The decision of the federal parliament to temporarily restart coal-fired power plants is a late but correct one,” the Federation of Germany Industries said. “In light of rising (energy) procurement costs, it is fitting that the state is directly supporting energy suppliers to secure gas supplies in Germany.”

RWE, the energy giant that owns the mine next to Lutzerath, is digging deep into the coal mines to help meet the country’s immediate energy needs.

This is happening despite both the company and the country’s commitment to renewable energy. But, ensuring short-term energy security “still requires a certain but always shrinking amount of lignite (coal),” says company spokesman Stephen.

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Energy and climate experts say Germany’s 11th hour (re)turn to coal shows rich countries have made a mistake in relying so heavily on other countries’ fossil fuel reserves.

“You know, making the same mistakes again, relying on imported gas and oil and coal from other countries, would be very foolish,” says Andrzej Ansigeier, a policy analyst at Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based environmental think tank.

But that’s exactly what happened.

Still, there are residents of Germany’s coal-producing regions, says Professor Zuchelka, who believes the country needs “a little more time” to transition from coal. He says families in this part of Germany have been dependent on the coal economy for decades.

More than half of the electricity produced in North Rhine-Westphalia still comes from this fossil fuel, explains Dirk Jansen, an environmental campaigner who has been working to halt the expansion of coal in Germany for 30 years.

“We’re still coal country here,” Jensen told Global News.

He says that domestic coal plants stand to make a lot of money in the current environment.

“Because of the Ukraine war, the price of electricity (ki) is very high, and therefore, lignite-fired power plants make a lot of money,” he says.

This is not only in Germany, but in the whole world including Canada.

there are reports That a coal mine in Cape Breton could reopen later this year, potentially capitalizing on the spike. The Donkin mine in Nova Scotia began operating in 2017 but was shut down after three years as coal prices plummeted and amid safety concerns. Now it can open again.

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Meanwhile, the government of British Columbia continues to allow its ports to ship millions of tons of coal overseas, mostly for use in making steel in Asia.

Cars loaded with coal sit on rails in Burnaby, B.C. The province still exports millions of tons of coal overseas each year.

Kamyar Razvi / Global News

Then there is China, where there is still a tremendous hunger for coal.

The world’s most populous country and second largest economy fears for its energy security. So, it’s doubling down on coal – and renewables.

Last year, the Global Energy Monitor, a group that tracks coal plant construction around the world, forecast 43 new coal plants for China.

“We certainly see continued coal expansion in China,” says Rayna Cui, a research professor who studies China’s energy policies at the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland.

The boom in oil prices, and the return of coal, represented an unfortunate turn of events, and could have been completely prevented, says John Bennett with Friends of the Earth Canada.

He says that if governments had reacted to climate change like they did to wars or other emergencies, “then (energy security) would not be a problem.”

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Instead, governments have painted themselves into a corner by relying so heavily on fossil fuels. If the goal is energy security, Bennett says, then countries should invest in renewable energy that is endless and free in supply.

“You know, it’s really hard to wipe out a country’s energy supply if it relies on renewable energy from a whole bunch of sources instead of a few big power plants.”

“(He) can get us out of this cycle of having to go to the cleaners every time something happens somewhere else in the world.”

This transition is happening, even in coal country – and even by energy giants who have made millions by digging up planet-polluting fossil fuels.

Wind turbine tower atop the Garzweiler coal mine in western Germany.

Federico Gambarini / Getty Images

Beyond the coal company’s massive mine near Lützerth, a handful of wind turbines jut out of the ground like a modern-day monolith.

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It is, Jansen suggests, the paradox of addressing the climate crisis while meeting the world’s energy needs here and now.

Coal, they say, can only be a blip—which is why Lutzerath is so symbolic.

“It’s like an end game for coal,” he says, adding that the shift toward renewable energy is well underway.

“This is,” he says, “the market of the future.”