Climate activists stage protest at German coal-fired plant

Environmental activists protested at a German coal-fired power plant on Friday — the same day that Italy became the latest country to announce a deadline for ending its use of the heavily polluting fossil fuel.

Protesters projected images of Pacific islanders threatened by climate change onto the cooling tower of the lignite-fuelled power station in Neurath, in western Germany, along with the words "coal destroys our future."

The visual display, organized by representatives of Pacific island nations and the environmental group Greenpeace, took place as diplomats from around the world are meeting in nearby Bonn to discuss implementing the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The German government claims to be a leader in the fight against climate change but has refused to set a date for phasing out the use of coal, which emits large amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide when burned. Coal accounts for about 40 percent of Germany's energy mix.

Several other countries, however, have set a cutoff date for coal, including Italy, which announced it will stop using coal for its national electricity needs by 2025.

Italy's plan calls for investments of 175 billion euros ($203.5 billion) through 2030 in infrastructure, renewable energy and energy efficiency development. According to government statistics, coal provided 16 percent of Italy's national electricity in 2015.

Italy's new energy strategy calls for carbon emissions from energy use to decrease 39 percent by 2030 and 63 percent by 2050.

Coal has become a key issue at the Bonn climate talks. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore told delegates there Friday that making the switch away from fossil fuels won't be easy given the industry's political clout, but that it makes both environmental and financial sense.

"It is insane to force taxpayers to subsidize the destruction of our civilization, and of course, the coal and gas and oil lobbies have a lot of political power," Gore said. "They built it up over a hundred years, and they have the influence with politicians, not only in my country, but also in China, also in Japan."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Friday in New York that he will urge participants at Bonn conference to respond to the latest alarming data by further cutting emissions, helping countries respond to climate shocks and mobilizing the $100 billion promised to help developing countries.

He said recent reports send two messages: "accelerate climate action — and raise ambition."

The 2015 Paris climate accord set a target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — or 2 degrees at the most — by the end of the century.

Guterres pointed to new worrying data: The World Meteorological Organization reported that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached new highs in 2016. A U.N. Environment Program report showed that greenhouse gas levels are likely to be so elevated in 2020 that reaching Paris targets for 2030 will be very hard to meet.

Guterres warned that the window of opportunity to keep temperatures to the 2-degree target "may close in 20 years or less — and we may have only five years to bend the emissions curve toward 1.5 degrees."

"We need at least a further 25 percent cut in emissions by 2020," he said.

Guterres also called for greater action by governments, businesses and citizens to combat climate change, and he announced he will hold a climate summit "to mobilize political and economic energy at the highest levels" in September 2019.


Jordans reported from Berlin. Edith M. Lederer contributed from the United Nations.