The UK and Canada jointly launched the Power Coal Alliance at UN climate talks in Bonn this month, with the purpose of phasing out unabated coal generation. That is, coal generation without any treatment to reduce the emissions of CO2. A total of eighteen countries, five provinces, and two states have joined the alliance so far, each making their own coal commitments, such as setting targets or preventing new investment in coal-fired generation. The aim is for the alliance to have 50 member nations by this time next year. The move is being seen as a political watershed, even though the largest coal users such as Australia, China, and the United States are yet to join. The US states of Oregon and Washington have joined the alliance independently. To stay below the target of 2oC warming, as agreed under the Paris Accord, OECD countries need to phase out coal by 2030, and global use will need to reduce by two-thirds by 2040. Statistics published last week show that coal continues to dominate China’s energy use, despite significant development of nuclear and renewable generation, as well as energy efficiency improvements. China’s aim is for its emissions to peak by 2030, by which time 80% of coal power plants will be fitted with clean coal technology.
The UK has already made significant progress against its commitment to end unabated coal generation by 2025. In July 2012, 40% of electricity generation in the UK was from coal but by July this year had fallen to just 2% of the mix. In Q2 of 2017, renewables and nuclear provided more than half of generation, at a record of 53%, compared to 47% in the same period last year. Canada, the UK’s alliance partner, uses coal generation to meet approximately 10% of its electricity, which is half the level seen 15 years ago. Eliminating coal and replacing it with renewables, or investing in abatement technologies, would help Canada to meet its 2030 emission reduction target. However, the move has raised concerns in Canada regarding jobs and costs. When the province of Ontario phased out coal in 2014, electricity costs escalated. In the UK, the move to a low-carbon energy mix has resulted in an increase to network and policy costs, which at present make up approximately 60% of a typical half hourly electricity bill.