Coal power has taken a battering at the UN climate change summit in Glasgow, as a number of European countries pledged to rid their energy mixes of the fossil fuel. Top polluters Poland and Ukraine are among the most notable countries to signal a shift in policy, although Poland's proposed deadline of 2049 has been criticised.
As one of the most polluting fossil fuels, ‘Cancelling coal’ is a main priority of the COP26 summit. This is also one of the most politically feasible green policies to push through in the current economic climate.
The summit is not disappointing in that regard, as some top names have made coal phaseout announcements, including Poland and Ukraine, which along with Germany make up the top three heaviest users of the fuel in Europe.
Poland gets most of its electricity from coal and has for many years frustrated climate policies at the EU level to protect its mining industry. Now its government has confirmed that it will aim to phase it out in the 2040s.
“Poland is the last big bastion of coal in Europe and will mostly finish Europe’s journey to become coal-free,” said Dave Jones, a campaigner with environmental NGO Ember.
However, later on Thursday, Polish climate minister Anna Moskwa clarified that "the social contract adopted by the government of Poland provides for a coal exit by 2049". This end-of-decade deadline has been widely denounced by green groups.
Ukraine gets about a third of its power from coal and will now ditch it by 2035, some 14 years earlier than Poland. Renewable energies such as solar and wind are tipped to make up for the reduction in fossil fuel energy.
“This objective requires developing highly-flexible and low-carbon generation, as well as integration of energy markets of Ukraine and the EU,” said Ukrainian energy minister German Galuschenko.
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Germany has already said it will curb coal by 2038 after negotiating lucrative compensation packages for power providers; however, the incoming government is likely to move that date up significantly.
Much of the anti-coal lobbying at COP26 is being carried out under the auspices of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, an umbrella group that now consists of 165 members and counting. Despite its pledge, Poland has not yet joined the alliance.
Twenty-one of the 27 EU countries are involved, after Croatia, Estonia and Slovenia decided to join. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Malta, Poland and Romania are yet to add their weight.
Slovenia, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, says it will set a phaseout date soon, while Croatia has confirmed it will work towards a 2033 deadline.
In Europe, a number of countries already keep the lights on without the use of coal, including Albania, Austria, the Baltic States, Belgium, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. However, those countries do use coal for other industrial processes.
Coal is rapidly becoming more expensive than other sources of energy, including renewables, as record-high carbon prices in the EU make it less economical to pollute. The price is expected to keep the pressure on fossil fuels.
Globally, China, India and the United States are the biggest coal users and although no full phaseout plans are on the table, separate promises by the three powerhouses to ramp up further clean electricity could squeeze the fuel out.
More announcements could yet be made at the summit, which runs for another eight days.