Many of those protesting were students who had skipped school to rally against climate change, which they see as a big threat to their generation. Chanting slogans such as "we are here, we are loud, because you are stealing our future," an estimated 5,000 people walked from the economy ministry, where the talks were held, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office.
An opinion poll released by public broadcaster ZDF found that a majority of Germans, 73 percent, agree a quick exit from coal is very important. The telephone poll of 1,285 people, conducted Jan. 22-24, had a margin of error of about three percentage points.
Those opposed to a rapid pullout include miners and other workers whose livelihoods depend on coal, some of whom staged a smaller morning protest outside the ministry demanding assurances from the government that jobs would be protected.
The government last year appointed a 28-member panel made up of scientists, politicians, environmental campaigners and business representatives to examine how the shift away from coal can be made as smooth as possible.
The panel's meeting in Berlin follows months of haggling over the amount of funding affected regions and companies will get, and what the final deadline for coal use in Germany will be. Greenpeace, which wants all coal plants shut down by 2030, said Germany needs to show leadership after failing to cut its carbon emissions for a decade.
"We need legally binding goals for how quickly emissions in Germany need to fall," Martin Kaiser, head of international climate politics at Greenpeace, told The Associated Press. "Otherwise we will crash past the climate goals for 2030, as we did for 2020."
Germany is committed to an 'energy transition' that involves replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources such as solar and wind power. While the country has made great strides in that direction — renewables beat coal for the first time last year — removing coal from the power equation entirely is a major challenge .
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said ensuring a reliably supply of electricity and affordable energy prices were a priority for Europe's biggest economy. "The energy transition will succeed if we get a big consensus from all actors in society," Altmaier told reporters.
If Friday's meeting fails to reach consensus, a further meeting is scheduled for Feb. 1. Chancellor Angela Merkel has already scheduled a meeting with governors from coal mining states next Thursday.