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When Will Coal Be Phased Out?

Dec 04 2017 Comments 0

The future of the coal industry received another significant nail in its coffin last month with the launch of the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) at the UN climate summit in Germany. A coalition of 20 nations led by the UK and Canada, the Alliance aims to phase out coal as quickly as possible and is a rallying call to nations around the world to modernise their energy production methods.

Despite the encouraging news, there are still concerns about the many glaring omissions from member states, including all top ten of the biggest coal consuming countries across the globe. China, the USA, India, Germany and Australia are just some of the names conspicuous by their absence on the list.

A “political watershed”

Gone are the days in which it was enough for power plants to comply with national and international regulations regarding emissions from coal-fired plants; now, the nations of the world are signalling their intention to do away with the fuel source altogether.

The UK were the first to commit to abandoning the harmful fossil fuel and had earmarked a date of 2025 for completely ending its use – but are currently well ahead of schedule to beat that target, having reduced the amount of energy generated from coal from 40% of the national total in 2012 to just 2% today.

Angola, Denmark, Mexico and New Zealand were the latest members to sign up to the alliance, joining the UK and Canada, as well as Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Netherlands, Niue, Portugal and Switzerland.

“There is a human cost and an environmental cost but we don’t need to pay that price when the price of renewables has plummeted,” said Catherine McKenna, Environment Minister for Canada. “I’m thrilled to see so much global momentum for the transition to clean energy – and this is only the beginning.”

Conspicuous by their absence

Despite the positive feeling generated by the launch of the Alliance, the reality is that the countries most committed to coal remain so. China produces and consumes almost as much as the rest of the world combined, though the Chinese government have made steps towards weening themselves off fossil fuels over recent years.

India is another major user of the damaging fuel and with a rapidly developing economy and booming population, relies heavily on coal for almost two-thirds of its energy needs. This has contributed to grave concerns over air quality in the Asian superpower and although the growing market for continuous monitoring emissions systems (CEMS) in developing countries has given the issue more of a platform, the government continues to receive criticism for its inaction.

Australia is also overly reliant on the substance not only for its energy but also for its economy, with 75% of energy in the country derived from coal at present. Amid growing criticism of its continued investment in coal, the government has indicated it has no plans to phase it out anytime soon. Meanwhile, with Donald Trump at the helm, it’s similarly unlikely that the USA will be putting the industry to bed in the near future, either.

But while there are certainly still obstacles to be overcome, the increasing membership of the PPCA (which aims to have more than 50 adherents by the end of 2018) may be a sign that the writing is on the wall for the most environmentally damaging energy source on the planet.

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