Pressure grows on UK government to end its love affair with coal

love affair with coal

Creative Commons: Tobias Scheck, 2011

Pressure continues to build on the UK government to rid itself of coal as it joins other rich nations in Paris this week to seek a deal on ending subsidies.

At a meeting of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development tomorrow, governments will continue talks aimed at brokering a phase-out of financing for coal-fired power plants and mining technologies abroad.

France has led the way on the issue, announcing it would end export subsidies for coal, but nations remain divided over the deal.

Campaigners are calling on the UK to stop using taxpayers’ money to underwrite coal industry sales overseas, and to press other nations to do the same.

Dr Alison Doig, Christian Aid’s Principal Advisor on Climate Change said:

Like floppy discs, three wheeled cars and dial up internet, coal should be consigned to the past. The Prime Minister recognised this when he pledged to phase out coal power from the UK. This week his Business Secretary Sajid Javid has an opportunity to back up that pledge by publicly demanding an international shift to end the use of public money to prop up the coal industry.

He’d be in good company: Barack Obama has already agreed to end support and just last week France did the same. In November 2013 the coalition government announced it would stop UK government international support to coal power, but at that point this excluded export credit guarantees. We now have an opportunity to put this right.

Like other countries in the G20, the UK continues to subsidise dirty coal; driving up emissions, distorting the energy market and acting as a barrier to clean energy.

A huge £1.13 billion in UK finance was pumped into fossil fuel energy operations overseas in 2013 – 314 times more than renewables – while the government continues to pumps billions more into keeping UK coal power plants online.

This stands in stark contrast to the government’s promises to support “companies that develop and export innovative green technologies” and to end the use of unabated coal in the UK.

Meanwhile the hidden costs of dirty coal continue to grow.

According to a comprehensive overview of coal production in Europe, deaths related to emissions from coal cost the UK economy between £2.47 billion and £7.15 billion in 2013, including mortality costs from respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, such as heart disease and lung cancer.

The UK is the third biggest emitter of CO2 from coal in Europe – causing some 87 million tonnes of CO2 last year.

But while the UK continues to back dirty energy, across Europe renewables are projected to grow and the UK is at risk of losing out on the multiple benefits of an industry responsible for 112,000 jobs and £14.9 billion in economic gains, as it drops out of the top ten best performing countries on renewable energy for the first time in over a decade.

Meanwhile, recent cuts to financial support for renewables are already hitting investors and businesses who warn that they are at risk of “shutting up shop altogether” if the toxic attack on the clean energy industry continues.

With the science clear that only by keeping the majority of the coal in the ground can the world hope to tackle climate change, now is the time for UK government to put its money where its mouth is, set forward an ambitious plan to phase out UK coal within the next decade and start investing in the clean technologies of the future, not the dirty energies of the past.

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