EU leaders urged to set deadline for closing coal-fired power stations

Moneypoint in Co Clare is Ireland’s largest single source of CO2

Visitors pass a COP21 logo at the COP21 world climate change conference. Photograph: EPA/Ian Langsdon

Visitors pass a COP21 logo at the COP21 world climate change conference. Photograph: EPA/Ian Langsdon

 

Europe’s political leaders must “dramatically ramp up efforts” to phase out polluting coal plants if they are serious about preventing dangerous climate change, a new report shows.

The study reveals carbon emissions from Europe’s ageing coal-fired power stations -- including Moneypoint, in Co Clare -- will have to come down three times faster than the current rate for the EU to keep in line with global efforts to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The findings were published by Climate Action Network (Can) Europe and British think-tank Sandbag as the world’s top climate diplomats are in the thick of negotiations over a new global plan to bring down global warming emissions at the UN climate summit in Paris.

Drawing on the most comprehensive database yet of Europe’s coal plants, analysts have for the first time been able to put a number on the amount of carbon released by the 280 coal-fired power stations currently operating in the EU and its changes over time.

In 2014, Europe’s huge “fleet” of coal plants released a total of 762 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) -- as much as France, Spain and Portugal combined -- accounting for 18 per cent of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions, nearly as large as that of the entire EU road transport sector.

The report, which was commissioned by Can and Greenpeace UK, urges Europe’s leaders to “get a grip on coal pollution by setting out clear national plans and deadlines to push coal off their energy system”.

Moneypoint is Ireland’s largest single source of CO2, with emissions of 4.5 million tonnes annually.

Britain recently became the first G20 economy to announce such a plan, with the aim of retiring all of its coal plants by 2025. It was preceded by a similar move in Austria, which is on track to become “coal power free” when the last plant closes in 2025. Finland has also committed to phase out coal by the 2020s.

Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Diana Vogtel said: “Unless Europe’s leaders take action to phase out the dirtiest fossil fuel, their creaking, polluting coal plants risk derailing the bloc’s efforts to stave off dangerous climate change.” Clean technologies that could replace coal were also becoming more competitive.

“From Alberta in Canada to Finland and the UK, the leaders of advanced economies are already showing that it’s possible to put an expiry date on the age of coal,” according to Can Europe director Wendel Trio. “Phasing out coal is the easiest way for the EU to increase its climate ambitions.”

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Europe’s carbon emissions from burning coal will need to fall by 8 per cent every year until 2040 to keep below the 2 degrees Celsius warming threshold. However, coal emissions have only been cut by an average of 2.3 per cent a year over the past nine years.

The study also found that 66 per cent of Europe’s coal plants have been in operation for 30 years or more. “This makes them particularly inefficient, polluting, and prone to breakdowns”, it said.

The ESB’s 915-megawatt Moneypoint power plant, on the Shannon estuary, has been operating since 1985.

Coal-fired plants are the world’s biggest emitters of CO2, accounting for 31 per cent of all carbon released by burning fossil fuels, according to the IEA. It has said that global coal emissions must be halved by 2030 and phased out almost completely phased out by 2040 if the the 2 degree target is to be met.