“No future in fossil fuels” and photos of Pacific islandes projected onto the Neurath coal power plant during COP23 in Bonn. Photo: ©Greenpeace
Coal is finished, CCS doesn’t work
The worldwide movement against coal power is getting stronger and has already made some progress.
“Coal is finished, the hard question now is gas. I think CCS has not been successful. It doesn’t work, let’s call it what it is – it is simply too expensive, too cumbersome, the technology didn’t fly,” said Francesco Starace, president of Eurelectric, the trade association representing the electricity industry at European level in an EURACTIVE interview last month. The International Energy Agency (IEA) argued several years ago that no new coal power plants should be built in Europe if global temperature rise is to be kept below 2°C.
More than 15 coal plants in Europe have been shut down in the last two years. In 2016, Canada announced an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired electricity by 2030, and in October the UK announced their commitment to phase out coal by 2025. Italy also announced in October 2017 that it would phase out all coal power stations by 2025. CoalWire reports that the Netherlands are to end coal power before 2030. An agreement between four parties in the Dutch parliament has committed to phase out all five coal plants in the Netherlands before 2030. As part of the agreement, the oldest coal plant will be closed before 2022. The remaining four plants, including 3,500 MW of capacity commissioned in 2015 and 2016, will be closed before 2030. Deutsche Welle reports that the German Advisory Council on the Environment, comprising seven university professors, has recommended the closure of the country’s most polluting coal plants by 2020 and phasing out of the remaining units by 2030. The council’s report estimated that the 1.5°C global temperature increase limit flagged in the Paris Agreement would require the closure of all of Germany’s coal plants within the next two and a half years or within the next 10 years to achieve the 2°C temperature limit. Austria, Denmark, France, Finland; Portugal and Sweden have also announced phase out dates for coal ahead of 2030
Reuters reports that US power companies expect to retire or convert from coal to gas nearly 8,000 megawatts of coal-fired plants in 2017 after decommissioning almost 13,000 MW in 2016, according to US Energy Information Administration and Thomson Reuters data. In 2015, power companies shut almost 18,000 MW of coal-fired generation, the most in any year. Cheap gas from record shale production over the past decade has kept power prices low, making it uneconomic for generators to upgrade older coal plants according to Reuters.
Environmental NGO networks in Europe, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, have been campaigning against air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from coal power for decades and local citizen groups have also been fighting coal mining projects to defend communities and nature. In recent years the NGOs have increasingly been working on joint campaigns to achieve the phasing out of coal. With help from foundations such as ECF and Oak, Climate Action Network Europe has developed a platform known as “Beyond coal” since autumn 2017.
Several important studies about the coal industry have been published.
Who Owns the World’s Coal? is a study by influencemap.org which analyses in detail the ownership chains of the world’s thermal coal. It tracks the links between the coal reserves (the mines), the operating coal companies and the shareholders who own these companies. It shows roughly $185bn in shareholder value associated with 117 listed thermal coal producers/owners.
The German environmental organisation NGO Urgewald and its 25 NGO partners published the “Global Coal Exit List” (GCEL), a comprehensive database of companies participating in the thermal coal value chain. GCEL provides key statistics on over 770 companies whose activities range from coal exploration and mining, coal trading and transport, to coal power generation and manufacturing of coal plants. Out of the 775 companies featured in the GCEL, 218 mine coal, 214 operate coal plants, and 110 operate both coal mines and coal power plants. The remaining 233 companies provide various services throughout the coal value chain. The Global Coal Exit List also shows that a lot of coal plants are still online and even some new plants are planned. In the European Union, GCEL reports that the largest coal plant operator is RWE, in Germany, with an installed coal capacity of 20,163 MW. With an annual production of 91 million tons, RWE is also the world’s biggest lignite miner. The biggest EU-based coal producer is Anglo American. While headquartered in the UK, it has coal mines in South Africa, Colombia and Australia, where it produces 95 million tons of coal annually. GCEL explains that although the coal industry is in decline in Europe, some companies are still intent on expanding their coal operations: 20 companies from the EU have coal power or mining expansion plans outside of Europe. Within the EU the biggest expansions are planned in Poland, where four companies are planning new coal mines and five companies are planning to build 10,845 MW of new coal power capacity. The biggest among these is PGE (5,260 MW), which makes it the number one coal power expansionist in Europe, according to GECL.
Hopefully Poland will soon also restructure its power industry like it successfully did in the 1980s and 1990s to reduce air pollution and develop large-scale wind and solar power and its full integration into the European grid. AirClim is demanding a phase-out of coal in Europe by around 2025 to provide a 50 per cent chance of staying within the temperature targets agreed in Paris.
Compiled by Reinhold Pape
Sources: Who Owns the World’s Coal? https://influencemap.org/site/data/000/269/Who_Owns_the_Worlds_Coal_May_...
Global Coal Exit List www.coalexit.org