Sweden backs sale of German coal mines to Czech group

COPENHAGEN – Sweden’s Social Democratic government said Saturday it is endorsing the sale of state-owned Vattenfall AB’s four coal mines and mining assets in Germany to Czech investors, sparking harsh reactions from environmentalists.

“The deal is of strategic importance for the company and that it is financially best option,” Enterprise and Innovation Minister Mikael Damberg said. “The value of selling is higher than to keep and continue operating the business.”

He didn’t disclose details about the price.

Climate minister Isabella Lovin of Sweden’s Environment Party told a joint news conference the government “had thoroughly investigated the deal but didn’t find any formal reasons to reject it.”

In April, Czech energy company Energeticky a prumyslovy holding, or EPH, signed an agreement to acquire the Swedish state-owned utility’s loss-making assets in Germany. EPH made the bid together with PPF Investments, a private equity group.

The Swedish company seeks to shift its energy strategy. Vattenfall had made large write-downs on its operations in Germany.

Environmentalists have called on Sweden’s government to stop the sale and dismantle the coal assets to prevent climate-warming CO2 emissions.

Jan Kowalzig, a climate change adviser at Oxfam Germany, said the Swedish government “is spurning the landmark treaty on climate change adopted last year in Paris,” calling the sale “a failed attempt to clean up Vattenfall’s dirty environmental record.”

“It fosters the continued digging up and burning of dirty coal in the region,” he said in a statement.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Annika Jacobson said it “implies a direct subversion of the Paris Agreement.”

Four environmental activists were briefly detained last month after climbing on top of the entrance of the Swedish government headquarters disguised as construction workers to protest the sale. In May, an environmental activist was arrested for squirting a red liquid from the spectators’ gallery during a debate on the issue in Parliament.

Last year, 195 countries reached a deal on curbing global warming. The so-called Paris agreement aims to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial times. It enters into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 per cent of global emissions have joined it.

“Europe needs to phase out coal as soon as possible to stand a chance of meeting the Paris Agreement,” said Johan Rockstrom, a professor of Global Sustainability at Stockholm University. “This decision is disgraceful and unacceptable.”