In a statement on June 30, 2021, the United Kingdom announced it will end the use of coal-fired power by October 2024, which is a year earlier than it was scheduled. This move came as a result of the UK pushing other countries towards a greater climatic ambition before hosting the global warming summit in November this year.
“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.
The United Kingdom will not have much to do when it comes to reducing the coal dependency. 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 country has come a long way from the days when a thick smog engulfed London and caused multiple casualties 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.” However, this move by the UK may not bring other countries along with it. “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.”
Leaders of the Group of Seven nations agreed last month at a summit in Cornwall that they will end financial support for international coal power generation without carbon capture by the end of the year. During the summit, they also agreed to move toward an “overwhelmingly” decarbonized power system by the 2030s.
Even though several countries have supported the statement, it may be hard for some players to give in to domestic politics in countries like Japan and the US. President Biden is planning to bring in an infrastructure bill and announcing a reduction on coal dependency could seriously upend that bill. Germany passed a law last year to end coal-fired power generation by 2038.
In the global markets, the market for coal is coming down exponentially 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.
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.”