Exposing the 'Dirty 30': UK and Germany hold majority of Europe's most polluting coal plants

Coal power plants across the EU are undermining climate change efforts, according to a far-reaching energy report released today (22 July).

The Bełchatów power station (above) in Poland comes top in the 'dirty 30' list, the UK's Drax power station ranks sixth

The Bełchatów power station (above) in Poland comes top in the 'dirty 30' list, the UK's Drax power station ranks sixth

The 'Europe's Dirty 30' report, compiled by the Climate Action Network (CAN), exposes the top 30 most polluting power plants in the EU, ranked according to their total CO2 emissions in 2013. It reveals that Germany and the UK rank joint-first for the number of dirty coal power plants, with nine each.

The UK's nine coal power stations produced less than a third of its electricity supply last year, but were responsible for nearly two thirds of carbon emissions from the electricity sector. The plants were mainly built in the 1960s and 70s and often have a low average efficiency of 36%.

CAN Europe's coal policy officer Kathrin Gutmann said: "Coal-fired power plants are the single biggest global source of greenhouse gas emissions. CO2 emissions from coal in the EU are still far too high, as shown by the EU's 'Dirty 30 power plants'. The EU needs to tackle coal head on, if it wants to successfully meet its own long-term climate targets."

The WWF, European Environment Bureau, Health and Environment Alliance and Climate Alliance Germany also helped to produce the report, which ranks the top 30 most polluting coal plants in Europe as the 'Dirty 30'.

Although Germany ranked first on last week's International Energy Efficiency Scorecard, the nation is also home to four of the five most polluting coal power plants in Europe and produces the most CO2 from coal of any nation in the EU. Poland ranked second for coal pollution, with its Belchatow power plant ranking as the most polluting coal facility The UK ranked third, despite its on-going renewable energy targets.

TABLE: UK power plant CO2 emissions

Britain's nine dirtiest coal power plants made it into the 'Dirty 30', having collectively emitted nearly 100 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere last year. The Drax power plant in Selby was the UK's most polluting coal power plant emitting 20.32MT/a of CO2 and ranking as the sixth highest polluter in the EU. The plant was recently awarded €300m to invest in Carbon Capture Storage technology. 

The report issues a stark warning to the London Stock exchange against investing in coal intensive power production, stating that the UK economy is especially exposed to poorly managed climate change policy and there is a major financial risk to investors. 

Despite the closing of a large number of coal power plants since 2000 - falling from 25% of the EU's electricity capacity in 2000 to 19% capacity in 2013 - the rise in emissions from coal has increased due to running plants near full capacity as the price of coal is relatively low compared to gas.

According to the report, the heavy use of coal in EU countries claiming to lead the way in carbon reduction, such as the UK and Germany, puts the EU in grave danger of not phasing out coal quickly enough and undermining its climate ambitions. The EU must reduce the share of coal in electricity generation to 4% by 2035, compared to its 26% share recorded in 2011, in order to meet its emissions targets.

MAP: Europe's 'Dirty 30'...

The report also outliness the continuing damage of coal power's air pollution to public health and environmental damage caused by acid rain. 

European Environment Bureau senior policy officer Christian Schialbe said: "Europe's coal addiction is bad for people's health, bad for the environment and has no place in our sustainable energy future." 

While the UK has made progress on renewable energy production, the WWF called on politicians to move beyond words and act on reducing the UK's reliance on coal. The report outlined policy changes for reducing CO2 emissions from coal, including the rapid closure of the most polluting power stations, policies to end the lifetime extension of old coal power stations and ending continued state investment in coal worldwide.

WWF-UK energy and climate specialist Jenny Banks said: "Our political leaders are justifiably proud of their record on supporting tackling climate change on the global stage. But they must make sure they're not saying one thing and doing another. Coal is by far the most polluting source of electricity. Tackling climate change means making sure that emissions from coal power are phased out over the next decade."

REPORT: How the EU's coal-fired power plants are undermining its climate efforts

Matt Field


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