EU must kick coal habit by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2050 to meet Paris emissions targets, report says

'There are numerous alternatives to coal and their development is gaining momentum, many bringing benefits beyond emissions reductions, such as cleaner air, energy security, and distribution'

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The Independent Online

Every coal plant in the European Union should be closed by 2030 and every single one in the world should shut by 2050 in order to meet commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to a new report.

Researchers at Climate Analytics founds replacing coal with renewable energy was the cheapest way to achieve the targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the scale of the task is daunting, as illustrated by an interactive map of Europe created by the CarbonBrief website.

While some places like Scotland, where the last coal power station closed last year, and Ireland, which has just one, would be largely unaffected by this strategy, Germany and Poland, in particular, rely heavily on the fossil fuel.

The report said: “A fast coal phase-out strategy in the European Union represents not only a necessity but also an opportunity when considering other policy goals beyond climate change. 

“There are numerous alternatives to coal and their development is gaining momentum, many bringing benefits beyond emissions reductions, such as cleaner air, energy security, and distribution.

“Currently hard coal and lignite jointly provide over a quarter of electricity generated in the EU. While the EU has achieved significant reductions in coal use for other purposes in the last decades, reductions in the use of coal in power plants were more modest at 11 per cent below 2000 levels in 2014.”

The report said Germany and Poland together produced 54 per cent of the EU’s total emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The UK announced shortly before that Paris Summit on climate change in 2015 that it would phase out “unabated coal” by 2025.

At the time, this was heralded as a major breakthrough as it was widely reported as if the UK would no longer allow coal plants to produce any emissions at all.

But the Government has refused to define what it meant by “unabated” – this is the subject of an on-going public consultation.

That has led to speculation coal could still continue to be part of the UK energy mix after 2025 if its emissions were only partly reduced – for example, to the levels produced by burning gas – rather than completely removed using carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS).

An economically viable CCS system has not yet been conclusively demonstrated, although there have been some promising signs.

The report listed the UK as one of the countries planning to phase out coal “completely” in the next 10 to 15 years, along with Finland and France.

But it said Poland, Greece and other countries were actually planning to build more coal plants.

The Paris Agreement seeks to keep global warming to “well below 2C”, the point at which scientists believe the effects of climate change would become particularly dangerous with increased storms, deadly heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods.

Climate Analytics calculated the EU could emit about 6.5 gigagtonnes of carbon dioxide from coal until 2050 and still remain on track to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

However they added: “Should existing coal-fired power plants continue their operation as planned, this carbon dioxide emissions budget will be exceeded by 85 per cent by 2050. 

“If carbon dioxide emissions from planned and announced plants are added, cumulative emissions will be almost twice as high as the coal emissions budget.”

The report said the EU and the rest of the developed would should stop using coal by 2030, China should do so by 2040 and the rest of the world by 2050.

"Any delay in phasing out coal globally before 2050 will mean that the reliance on negative emissions technologies in the second half of the century will be higher to compensate for lack of climate action," it said.