Germany has mined and burnt lignite for hundreds of years and has the physical scars to show for it. From the Rhineland in the west to the Lausitz in the east, the landscape is pockmarked by vast open-pit mines, empty save for colossal excavators burrowing ever deeper into the ground.

But a government-appointed task force is set on February 1 to release a plan on ending the use of lignite, or brown coal, in a crucial decision for Germany’s energy industry and its standing in the fight against climate change. Lignite — one of the dirtiest sources of energy — accounts for almost a quarter of electricity generated in Europe’s largest economy and 20,000 jobs.

But Germany’s reliance on the cheap fuel is seen as a key reason why it has fallen behind its climate change goals. Environmental campaigners want Berlin to show it is serious about cutting greenhouse gas emissions by closing lignite-fired power plants sooner rather than later. But just how soon has been the subject of intense political debate. The task force — convened by Chancellor Angela Merkel last year — is made up of representatives of industry, politics and environmental groups. Its overarching mandate is to ensure Germany’s energy sector meets its 2030 climate targets, which means cutting greenhouse gas emissions by just over 60 per cent from a 1990 baseline.