Europe's coal comeback here to stay without strong climate and energy policies

Europe's coal comeback

NGOs warn Europe’s coal resurgence could be permanent if strong policies aren’t put in place. Creative Commons: Bert Kaufmann, 2009

European countries are at risk of locking themselves into a high-carbon future as they remain hooked on dirty coal, according to new research from UK based NGO Sandbag.

While more coal plants have been shut then opened in Europe in recent years, consumption is rising, and coal’s comeback – now responsible for 18% of EU CO2 emissions – could be here to stay unless policy-makers rethink their approach.

A rise in renewables has made politicians complacent, says Sandbag, warning that most renewables have displaced gas generation, not coal, with emissions from the dirty fuel increasingly 6% across Europe since 2010.

Dave Jones, policy analyst at Sandbag

Even as countries like Germany massively increase renewables, the carbon intensity of their power sector is rising as they increase their coal burn. The good news is this means if we act quickly there is huge potential to reduce emissions quickly by switching back to gas, but to do this this the EU needs a functioning carbon market.

But many European countries, namely the UK and Poland, could be locking themselves into a high-carbon future, as they look to invest in keeping coal plants open.

In the UK for example, the capacity market mechanism – which was yesterday approved by the European Commission – aims to provide payments to old coal and gas generators to make sure they stay online.

In total 40 GW of the 150 GW of old power stations across Europe could remain online, keeping countries on a dirty pathway.

These findings follow an analysis of European coal consumption published earlier this week, which also found that coal is on the rise as plants run more frequently, coal becomes cheaper and gas more expensive.

Europe risks being further locked into dirty fossil fuels as lobbying efforts by oil and gas companies push for a shale gas expansion, according to Friends of the Earth Europe.

By supporting dirty coal, European policymakers are ignoring the needs of their citizens and the multiple benefits of a clean energy pathway.

Coal consumption is bad for the health of Europeans; responsible for an estimated 18,200 premature deaths, around 8,500 new cases of chronic bronchitis, and over 4 million lost working days each year.

Julia Huscher, Senior Coal and Health Officer at HEAL said:

Each of the largest coal-power stations in Europe is responsible for hundreds of millions of euros in health costs. The sheer amount of pollution they release, apart from the CO2 emissions, contributes to higher levels of particulate matter, which is a major health concern. In addition, only 30 power plants cause 20% of the health costs of the European power sector.

The phase-out of coal in Europe will be a win-win, because it will help to achieve clean air for more people, and avoid further health damage from climate change.

By supporting a clean energy future, European leaders would be limiting air pollution, protecting the health of its citizens, while also boosting economic opportunities, growth and jobs across the EU.

Failing to address the resurgence of dirty energy in Europe also undermines its credibility internationally.

While the new research further fuels the need for tough 2030 climate and energy targets, yesterday, the Commission disappointed NGOs and business groups by supporting a ‘weak’ energy saving goal.

As other countries take positive steps towards a 2015 Paris agreement, these groups are calling for the EU to show leadership by addressing its coal addictionsupporting a strong reform of the emissions trading scheme, to deliver a meaningful carbon price, and calls on member states to agree effective targets in their 2030 climate and energy package.

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