Climate talks: new alliance signals end to use of coal in power generation

Case against coal ‘unequivocal’, says UK climate minister

Chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates that withdrawing from coal use was on the agenda in talks to form a new government. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates that withdrawing from coal use was on the agenda in talks to form a new government. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

 

A dramatic announcement predicted to herald the end of coal use in power generation across much of the world was made by a new alliance of 25 states and regions at the United Nations climate talks in Bonn.

The development on Thursday was outside the high-level COP23 negotiations between more than 190 countries which conclude on Friday. Details of the alliance, which aims to have 50 members by next year, were outlined by the UK and Canada.

It signals an the end to the dirtiest fossil fuel that currently provides 40 per cent per cent of global electricity – although the United States under the direction of President Donald Trump has attempted to scale up coal use. Another notable absentee was Germany, which relies on coal for 40 per cent of its electricity – generated mostly by lignite-burning plants in the former East Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates that withdrawing from coal use was on the agenda in talks to form a new government.

“The case against coal is unequivocal,” said UK climate minister Claire Perry, This was, she added, on environmental and health grounds – air pollution from coal kills 800,000 people a year worldwide. “The alliance will signal to the world that the time of coal has passed.”

The UK was the first state to commit to ending coal use – by 2025 – but the electricity generated by coal has already fallen from 40 per cent to 2 per cent since 2012.

Price of renewables

“There is a human cost and an environmental cost but we don’t need to pay that price when the price of renewables has plummeted,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment minister. “I’m thrilled to see so much global momentum for the transition to clean energy – and this is only the beginning.”

Full implementation of the Paris agreement, which dominated the talks, will not be realised until next year but Moroccan diplomats have helped broker a breakthrough, with wealthy countries accepting the need for further actions on carbon cuts up to 2020.

There was also acceptance of the urgent need for a greater amount of “climate finance” to be provided to help countries cope with the effects of global warming.

Climatologist Prof John Sweeney of Maynooth University said the acid test of Friday’s COP23 outcome would be “the extent to which pre-2020 actions are agreed”.

Through much of the discussions, he understood there was a lack of a sense of urgency among wealthier countries in embracing the kind of emissions reductions needed. Likewise, financial pledges to developing countries did not reflect what was required, he said, given what was happening to them due to climate change.