Countries should ‘abandon coal power’, UK’s climate tsar to say

Coal should be “consigned to history” at the upcoming climate summit in Glasgow later this year, COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma is expected to say today.

In a major speech outside of Glasgow, Sharma is set to recognise that the world will struggle to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial times if it does not stop using coal.

His message somewhat contradicts the Government’s decision in January to allow the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years to go ahead, with business minister Kwasi Kwarteng making efforts to defend the decision not to step in. Only after months of backlash from environmental campaigners did it decide to open a public enquiry into the project.

“If we are serious about 1.5 degrees, Glasgow must be the COP that consigns coal to history,” Sharma will say. “We are working directly with governments, and through international organisations to end international coal financing. This is a personal priority. And to urge countries to abandon coal power, with the G7 leading the way.

“The days of coal providing the cheapest form of power are in the past. And in the past they must remain.

“The coal business is, as the UN Secretary General has said, going up in smoke. It’s old technology. So let’s make COP26 the moment we leave it in the past where it belongs, while supporting workers and communities to make the transition. Creating good green jobs to fill the gap.”

Despite the approval of the new mine, the UK has been reducing its use of coal in recent years, with 40 per cent of its electricity generated from the fossil fuel in 2012 compared to around 2 per cent now.

The world’s biggest producers are China, India, Indonesia, Australia, the United States, Russia and the European Union. China is also the world’s biggest consumer, using more than half of the world’s coal produced, according to the International Energy Agency.

According to the head of the World Coal Association the coal industry will be able to survive decarbonisation efforts if it makes extensive use of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Speaking to Reuters, Michelle Manook said: “Go back to Paris (referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement), go back to the International Panel on Climate Change and they have been really clear and consistently saying that we are not going to get there without CCS.”

Policies that exclude coal are not helpful, she said, adding that “CCS is a proven technology. We know it can be applied.”

But CCS is expensive and largely unproven at scales large enough to make a significant dent in the atmospheric carbon concentration.

In December, the Global CCS Institute said that although the number of CCS facilities operating globally had increased by a third in the previous year, it was far from what is required to meet climate goals. 

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