The United Kingdom will end its use of coal-fired power by October 2024, a year earlier than scheduled, as it pushes other countries toward greater climate ambition ahead of a global warming summit it's hosting in November.
“Coal powered the industrial revolution 200 years ago, but now is the time for radical action to completely eliminate this dirty fuel from our energy system,” Energy and Climate Change Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said in a statement yesterday.
It won't have far to go. Coal accounted for just 1.8% of the U.K.'s electricity mix last year, with roughly 43% coming from renewable sources such as wind and solar, according to the U.K. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
The government plans to introduce legislation on the coal phaseout “at the earliest opportunity,” it said. It will only apply to coal used in electricity generation, not other sectors such as the steel industry.
The U.K. has come a long way from the days when a thick blanket of coal-fueled smog fell over London in the 1950s. As recently as a decade ago, coal accounted for roughly 40% of the country's power generation.
Trevelyan said the move is a “clear signal that the U.K. is leading the way on consigning coal power to the history books.”
It may not bring everyone along.
“I don't think a country with a de minimus residual coal fleet is necessarily going to shame big coal consumers into radical change,” said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners LLC.
“There are countries where it's going to be a big deal to transition off coal, and there are countries where it's not,” he added.
Leaders of the Group of Seven nations agreed last month at a summit in Cornwall to end financial support for international coal power generation without carbon capture by the end of the year and to move toward an “overwhelmingly” decarbonized power system by the 2030s (Climatewire, June 14).
But getting them to commit to an end date for coal power has been harder given domestic politics in places like Japan and the U.S., where it could upend President Biden's infrastructure bill. Germany passed a law last year to end coal-fired power generation by 2038.
Still, coal has hit the skids globally as costs for mining and generation have grown and more countries have committed to stricter targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Coal is a leading contributor to the growth in emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
Research from Climate Analytics shows that coal needs to be phased out globally by 2040 to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
The U.K. passed legislation in 2019 to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and has been pushing other countries to commit to coal phaseout dates ahead of the United Nations climate summit being held in Scotland in November.
“The impact of this step will be far greater if we can bring the world with us,” said Alok Sharma, president of the climate summit, known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP 26, yesterday.
Book said the U.K.'s phaseout does have a lot of symbolism given its coal-dependent history.
“But as a percentage change relative to the status quo, it tells a different story: It says this is what it's like on the far side of an energy transition, and that may motivate when one looks at where the U.K. started,” he said. “But it also illustrates the huge gaps that lie ahead for some of the countries that are still where the United Kingdom was 50 years ago.”
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.