JAENSCHWALDE, Germany (AP) — Amid whiffs of chemicals and the electric hum of transformers, Kraftwerk Jaenschwalde rises like an ash-colored fortress over a landscape disfigured by decades of open-pit coal mining.
The communist-era colossus in eastern Germany is one of Europe’s dirtiest power plants, belching 24 million tons of climate-warming carbon dioxide into the air every year.
It could have been closed for good when former owner Vattenfall, a Swedish utility, decided to get rid of its coal assets in Germany to reduce its carbon footprint. But as local officials point out, the lignite industry employs thousands in this region and together with hard coal accounts for more than 40 percent of Germany’s power production.
“This is the reason why you can’t shut down a coal mine or power plant from one day to another,” plant spokesman Thoralf Schirmer says.
That the fight against climate change ran into that cold hard reality here in the heart of Europe — the world’s climate leader — shows how challenging it’s going to be to keep the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, as agreed in last year’s Paris emissions pact.
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