Coal left friendless as UK and wealthy nations cut ties


Creative Commons: 2012.

It’s been another devastating week for coal.

Today, the UK government became the first major economy in the world to put a date on a phase out of coal, following hot on the heels of an agreement by wealthy countries yesterday to limit financing for the dirty energy source.

Today’s announcement will see the UK close all of its coal-fired power plants by 2025, and lower their output from 2023.

UK climate and energy secretary Amber Rudd said the government would begin a consultation next spring setting out the proposed 2025 deadline for coal-power station to close, unless they are equipped with to capture and store their emissions.

Instead the government would focus on a new generation of gas and nuclear powered station, said Rudd.

The move to end the use of coal was welcomed both in the UK and around the world as an “inspiring precedent” which could “pave the way for similar commitments” from other nations.

In the US Former US Vice President Al Gore said:

The decision by Prime Minister David Cameron to phase out the United Kingdom’s unabated coal power stations by 2025 sets an excellent and inspiring precedent as we head into COP21. With this announcement, the UK is demonstrating the type of leadership that nations around the world must take in order to craft a successful agreement in Paris and solve the climate crisis. The UK has become the first major economy to set a clear date to phase out coal, and I am hopeful that others will follow suit as we repower the global economy with the clean energy we need for a sustainable future.

Back at home in the UK, the move was cautiously celebrated by green groups. John Sauven, Greenpeace UK Executive Director said:

As the country that used coal to start the industrial revolution, it is right that we celebrate this historic moment as the UK becomes the first major economy to turn away from this deadly, polluting source of energy. Amber Rudd’s speech marks a welcome end for the use of coal. Now we must ensure that the government prioritises renewable energy to power the UK in the future. And in our role as a leader on the international stage, we must encourage global action on coal at the international climate talks.

But commentators warn the government continues to fuel “its addiction to fossil fuels” with plans to double down on gas power at the expense of a clean, renewable energy industry which is booming globally.

Susan Shaw, EU Energy and Coal Lawyer at ClientEarth said:

The UK Government now has a unique opportunity to untangle its inconsistent, incoherent and confused energy policy. But to demonstrate real leadership and sustainable solutions for the long-term, the commitment to phase out coal should be in the context of an overall policy that favours low carbon energy production, that does not overplay the capacity needed for security of supply and that does not lock in other fossil fuels. A dash for gas is clearly questionable when cleaner, greener alternatives are available.

Meanwhile Friends of the Earth’s senior energy campaigner Simon Bullock warned that “switching from coal to gas is like an alcoholic switching from two bottles of whisky a day to two bottles of port.”

“The UK Government’s ongoing addiction to fossil fuels sends a terrible signal to crucial Paris climate talks, starting in a fortnight,” he added.

In another blow yesterday, wealthy nations agreed to radically cut export credits for coal, the biggest contributor to climate change, a move that promises to curb the growth of power plants in developing countries.

Under the agreement, which takes effect in 2017, financing would still be allowed for the most advanced “ultra-supercritical” plants, and for some other plants in the very poorest countries.

Alison Doig, Principal Climate Change Advisor said:

Coal is climate enemy number one and the OECD’s tighter restrictions on coal exports will cut funding to 80% of planned coal projects – but they should have been much tougher. Sadly these new export rules are incompatible with keeping global warming below 2 degrees.

The coal industry is facing continued decline, with forecasters warning it is it is “increasingly likely” that global coal consumption peaked in 2013, and is poised for its biggest decline in history in 2015.

And while the coal industry continues in its weak attempts to sell itself as part of the solution, its misleading rhetoric is failing to hit the mark.

New analysis this week warns that coal focused energy policies risk leaving billions of people without access to electricity and clean cook facilities by 2030. They say the easiest and most affordable way to get power to people is off-grid systems powered by solar or wind.

It is little wonder governments are signalling their shift away from the dirty energy source, but not all countries are on board.

Coal still provides 40 per cent of the world’s electricity, and while countries from the UK, to China to the US is limiting its use, others continue to see a rise.

Meanwhile governments continue to pump billions of dollars into fossil fuel extraction leaving countries risking the jobs, profits and improved health a renewable energy future brings.

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