With a 2030 deadline looming, stakeholders across the European Union are ramping up efforts to tackle CO2 emissions. In addition to calling for a clampdown on imports of unsustainable palm oil production for biofuel, the EU is zeroing in on coal production, with national energy companies pledging to put an end to the construction of new coal-fired plants after 2020.
The emissions produced from coal-powered electricity generation are a primary cause of climate change. The move, which is supported by Europe’s leading energy companies — including EURELECTRIC which represents 3,500 European utilities — is an important step in helping to keep maximum global average temperature rise as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In a statement released last week, EURELECTRIC said, “The European electricity sector believes that achieving the decarbonization objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement is essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the global economy. EURELECTRIC’s members are committed to delivering a carbon neutral power supply in Europe by 2050 and to ensuring a competitively priced and reliable electricity supply throughout the integrated European energy market.”
“This commitment to decarbonize electricity generation, together with the electrification of key sectors, such as heating, cooling and transport, will make a major contribution to help Europe meet its climate change targets. Electricity is on track to becoming a carbon neutral energy carrier and, if used more widely, will open the door for many more positive changes, spill-overs in sectors which currently have no prospect of becoming fully sustainable.”
The pledge demonstrates that the energy sector is ready to put its money where its mouth is and take concrete action towards making the transition to a low-carbon economy. At this stage, lack of action will undoubtedly result in an overshoot of Paris climate pledges. Twenty-six of the 28 EU member states have signed onto the initiative, with Greece and Poland abstaining. Greece has plans to continue building coal-fired plants, while Poland still relies on coal for a whopping 90 percent of its electricity production.
The announcement is certainly a blow to the coal industry, but not surprising. Brian Ricketts, secretary-general of Euracoal, told The Guardian: “Steam engines were replaced by something better, cheaper and more productive — electric motors and diesel engines. When we see a new energy system — with lots of energy storage — that works at an affordable price, then coal, oil and gas will not be needed.” Ricketts pointed out, however, that conventional sources will continue to play a role in the low-carbon transition, filling in gaps where renewables technology falls short. Such is the case in Germany, where coal is helping the country shift away from nuclear energy towards renewables.
Transitioning the energy sector from coal to renewables will require a coherent regulatory framework with complementary and clearly targeted policy instruments, as well as a balance between incentives and protection for investors. While the sector is already leveraging investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a balanced, market-based approach to the energy transition will be essential.
“The challenge for policy makers in the next two years will be to target the political instruments, ensure that they are complementary and advance decarbonization and electrification at the same time,” said Kristian Ruby, EURELECTRIC secretary-general.