SPECIAL COP23: Powering Past Coal Alliance puts pressure on major coal consumers

The UK and Canada have launched the “Powering Past Coal Alliance” at COP23 in Bonn. The coalition unites a number of governments, businesses and organisations, which aim to lead the action in tackling climate change by committing to phase out unabated coal power. The alliance includes 19 countries as well as several Canadian provinces and US states (see note below), but the group strives to grow to include 50 countries by COP24 next year. That way, the coalition intends to keep momentum for ambitious climate mitigation, a healthy environment and a clean economy.

The members of the initiative commit not only to phase out coal power in their jurisdictions or operations but also to support clean power instead. In addition, the coal phase out shall proceed in a “sustainable and economically inclusive way”, meaning that affected communities and workers shall be supported adequately. Moreover, the participants of the alliance want to engage in sharing examples and best practices in supporting the phase out of coal, including climate finance activities.

The step by the UK and Canada as well as the other members is motivated by the fact that coal-fired power stations are a major cause for climate change due to their share of 40 percent in global electricity. Phasing out coal is thus critical for achieving the target in the Paris Agreement to keep global average temperature rise well below 2°C or even 1.5°C. Analyses of Climate Analytics indicate that OECD countries and the EU member states have to phase-out coal by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2050 to respect the international climate goals. Therefore, the coalition “recognises that not all countries can completely phase out […] coal at the same rate”.

However, as Reuters notes, some of the world’s biggest coal users, such as China, India, the US, Germany and Russia, have not joined the alliance, which is why the members of the alliance account for less than 3 percent of global coal use. Developing countries in general advocate that industrialised countries have to lead the way, including on phasing coal out. But many OECD countries and EU member states continue to rely on coal – Japan, Greece and Poland are even building new coal power plants. In addition, most entities participating in the new alliance had already announced to phase out coal before. Further, except for a few cases, it has been companies so far deciding to retire coal power stations or to abandon related constructions or development plans, more than states.

Beyond that, also Canada and the UK still have got a long way to go: while the UK has so far replaced most of their coal power plants with gas-fired power stations and recently announced another subsidy for oil exploration in the North Sea, Canada produces oil from tar sands with substantive adverse environmental impacts. A complete decarbonisation of the energy system and attaining the targets of the Paris Agreement requires more efforts than only phasing out coal.

Note: Initial members of the alliance are Alberta, Angola, Austria, Belgium, British Columbia, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, Fiji, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niue, Ontario, Portugal, Quebec, Switzerland, the UK, Vancouver and Washington.


(Image: Power Plant Panorama. Source: Frank Friedrichs, flickr)