In his statement at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City last week, Prime Minister Cameron pledged higher emissions standards for UK’s coal-fired power plants, and his team later tweeted that he plans to phase out existing coal-fired power plants in the UK in the next 10 to 15 years.
As one of the world’s leaders in carbon emissions, that’s huge. And this is just the latest in a series of steps away from coal for the UK.
At the COP19 Warsaw Climate Conference last year, following the lead of the United States and several Nordic countries, the UK announced that it would no longer publicly finance international coal projects.
However, recent efforts to lobby for the continued operation of the Aberthaw coal-fired power plant in South Wales directly contradict the government’s initiatives to advance the UK’s energy sector beyond a heavy reliance on coal. As it stands, the Aberthaw plant burns coal that is unusually difficult to ignite and employs chemical processes that result in nitrogen oxide (NoX) emissions five times above the legal limit. In fact, the plant was named as one of the top 30 highest carbon emitting plants in the Europe.
But despite its heavy emission output, Aberthaw coal-fired power plant remains exempt from European Commission regulations based on shaky arguments that it uses indigenous coal which is safe from the volatility of an international coal supply.
A recent flagship report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate on the new climate economy explicitly calls for “high-income countries to commit to avoiding further construction of new unabated coal as a minimum first step to avoid further lock-in to high GHG emissions and accelerate retirements of old plants.”
And this report is not merely an exercise in academia; the Commission includes former heads of state and finance ministers, the head of one of China’s largest private banks, and high ranking officials from the world’s leading international economic institutions including the OECD, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. While the scientific case for the risks of continued coal consumption has broad consensus, this report is among the first to make a comprehensive economic case for a decisive shift away from coal.
The world will be watching to see if Prime Minister Cameron is all talk or if he’ll follow-up on his pledge with concrete action.
-- Rohan Bhatia, International Climate Program Intern