EU must phase out coal by 2030 to meet Paris goals, report claims

The last European coal plant must be closed by 2030 if the continent is to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, a new report from non-profit institute Climate Analytics has stated.

The report reveals that EU’s CO2 emissions budget for coal in the power sector – which stands at around 6.5Gt by 2050 – will be exceeded by around 85% based on the current trajectory.

For the Paris Agreement-compatible budget to be met, emissions from coal in the EU electricity sector need to be close to zero by 2030, with a quarter of operating coal-fired power plants switched off before 2020, and a further 47% going offline by 2025, the report states.

“Not only would existing coal plants exceed the EU’s emissions budget, but the eleven planned and announced plants would raise EU emissions to almost twice the levels required to keep warming to the Paris Agreement’s long term temperature goal,” said Climate Analytics science director Dr Michiel Schaeffer.

Strategic phase-out

It is estimated that hard coal and lignite jointly provide more than a quarter of electricity generated in the EU. Germany and Poland are the largest perpetrators – they are jointly responsible for 51% of installed coal capacity and 54% of emissions from coal. Meanwhile, seven EU countries – including the UK – have outlined plans to phase out the fossil fuel within the next 10-15 years.

Climate Analytics is calling for national and European-level climate policies to be strengthened to achieve a fast coal phase-out. A supportive policy environment for renewables such as solar and wind energy will help to decrease the phase-out financial costs, accelerate the low-carbon transition and boost job creation lost in the fading coal industry, the report claims.

The EU has set targets to reduce by 40% its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 on a 1990 baseline, alongside goals to boost the share of renewable energy and energy efficiency by at least 27%. These objectives must be raised significantly, according to research, to facilitate a successful coal phase-out.

Climate Analytics is also calling for a more effective EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) and stricter environmental regulations to decrease the competitiveness of the coal sector.

“We find the cheapest way for the EU to make the emissions cuts required to meet its Paris Agreement commitments is to phase out coal from the electricity sector, and replace this capacity with renewables and energy efficiency measures,” said lead author of the report Paola Yanguas Parra.

Infrastructure upgrades

Renewable energy sources made up nearly nine-tenths of new power added to Europe’s electricity grids last year, and with the price of these technologies continuing to tumble, experts expect the demand for coal and oil to peak in 2020.

A fall in coal use, and subsequent rise in renewables and nuclear electricity sources, has been listed as a prime driver in the UK registering a 4% decline in carbon emissions in 2015. While the UK Government has recently reinforced its commitment to upgrade the UK’s energy infrastructure through a low-carbon transition, concerns remain that the solar industry will be killed off through increased business rates before it can become the cheapest form of electricity.

In the same week that the UK Government concluded its public consultation on approaches to initiate the closure of coal power stations by 2025, ministers have announced a £78m investment to UK coal plants to secure supply for the upcoming year. Included in the package was a £10m fund for the Aberthaw coal plant, recently rebuked for operating at double the legal pollution limits.

Environmental law firm ClientEarth has criticised the UK Government for failing to “put its money where its mouth is” on a coal phase-out. “The Government has not yet put its money where its mouth is by cutting subsidies to coal and other dirty fuels like large-scale gas, biomass, and diesel farms,” ClientEarth chief executive – and edie’s Sustainability Leader of the Year – James Thornton said.

“Ministers must provide support for the growing clean energy industry, bolstering job creation. They must also invest in managing the peaks and troughs of demand, and reducing power waste by upping energy efficiency.

“2025 isn’t a meaningful deadline – coal will already be well past its sell-by date by then and we will be in serious trouble. The Government knows this, but is unwilling to challenge the market. We’re demanding better.”

George Ogleby

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