A report from E3G, Global Energy Monitor and Ember argues: “The global pipeline of proposed coal power plants has collapsed by 76% since the Paris Agreement in 2015, bringing the end of new coal power into view.”
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has caught up with the climate science of 30 years ago, now saying:
We know what must be done to limit global warming – consign coal to history and shift to clean energy sources, protect nature and provide climate finance for countries on the frontline.
Of course, the statements and choices of politicians have a tendency to diverge.
The Government of Canada has issued a statement on thermal coal (the kind burned for heat and electricity, as opposed to metallurgical coal used in steel production):
The continued mining and use of coal for energy production anywhere in the world is not environmentally sustainable and does not align with the Government of Canadaâ€™s commitments, both domestically and internationally, with respect to combatting climate change. Accordingly, the Government of Canada considers that any new thermal coal mining projects, or expansions of existing thermal coal mines in Canada, are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects. This position will inform federal decision making on thermal coal mining projects.
They don’t exactly say that all new coal projects will be blocked (still less production and exports from existing projects), but they do add:
The statement indicates that the Government considers that these projects are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction and are not aligned with Canadaâ€™s domestic and international climate change commitments. Accordingly, this position will inform federal decision making on thermal coal mining projects.
The Pembina Institute is calling the announcement “fully aligned with global climate action.”
Other sources note that this may lead to the cancellation of Coalspur Mines’s Vista mine expansion in Alberta.
The Guardian reports:
Solar, wind and other renewable sources have toppled coal in energy generation in the United States for the first time in over 130 years, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating a decline in coal that has profound implications for the climate crisis.
Not since wood was the main source of American energy in the 19th century has a renewable resource been used more heavily than coal, but 2019 saw a historic reversal, according to US government figures.
Coal consumption fell by 15%, down for the sixth year in a row, while renewables edged up by 1%. This meant renewables surpassed coal for the first time since at least 1885, a year when Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Americaâ€™s first skyscraper was erected in Chicago.
As always with fighting climate change, it’s not enough to be moving in the right direction; we need to move toward decarbonization quickly enough to prevent climate change from getting out of control. Accelerating, completing, and replicating the US abandonment of coal must be a durable worldwide project.
In 2014, I posted about an article about how Germany and Japan were reverting to coal after the Fukushima disaster.
I just saw this:
BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany should shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by 2038 at the latest, a government-appointed commission said on Saturday, proposing at least 40 billion euros ($45.7 billion) in aid to regions affected by the phase-out.
2038 is awfully slow for such a toxic and climate-wrecking form of energy, but it’s good that Germany is gaining experience in phasing out fossil fuels and how to make it politically palatable
Bill McKibben has a New Yorker article out where he describes how banks could hasten the transition to decarbonization by increasingly refusing to lend to the fossil fuel industry:
So what would happen if, tomorrow, Chase announced that it was going to phase out lending to the fossil-fuel industryâ€”probably first by restricting loans for particular projects, and then by ending general corporate lending and banning the underwriting of new debt and equity for fossil-fuel companies? â€œWells Fargo and Citi would follow within days,â€ according to Tim Buckley, a former managing director at Citi, who now serves as the director of energy-finance studies for Australasia at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (I.E.E.F.A.), a Cleveland-based nonprofit research group. In fact, â€œtheyâ€™d look to go one step further, so as to pretend they werenâ€™t really sheep. And this would have global ramificationsâ€”the music would stop, very suddenly.â€ Wall Street, Buckley said, â€œcan be very deaf to warnings for years, but the financial-market lemmings will suddenly act in unisonâ€ once the biggest players send a signal. Everyone knows that the fossil-fuel era will come to an end sooner or later; a giant bank pulling back would send an unmistakable signal that it will be sooner. The biggest oil companies might still be able to self-finance their continuing operations, but â€œthe pure-play frackers will find finance impossible,â€ Buckley said. â€œCoal-dependent rail carriers and port owners and coal-mine contracting firms will all be hit.â€
A few of the big European banks have begun taking steps away from fossil fuels already. In June, the French giant CrÃ©dit Agricole announced a change that Disterhoft calls the â€œgold standard to dateâ€: the bank said that it would no longer do business with companies that are expanding their coal operations, and that, by 2021, its coal-business clients in the developed world would have to produce a plan for getting out of the business by 2030; its clients in China by 2040; and its clients everywhere else by 2050. BankTrack, an N.G.O. headquartered in the Netherlands, called the announcement a â€œwelcome first step,â€ and, indeed, the restrictions have clearly begun to bite. In late June, an Indonesian power-company executive said, â€œEuropean banks have said they donâ€™t want to finance coal projects for a while. Japanese followed and now Singapore. About eighty-five per cent of the market now donâ€™t want to finance coal-power plants.â€ He added, â€œCoal-power-plant financing is very challenging.â€ According to the I.E.E.F.A.â€™s Buckley, CrÃ©dit Agricoleâ€™s move helps explain why, for instance, Vietnam, which was supposed to be a key market for new coal-fired power plants, instead grew its â€œsolar base tenfold in the twelve months to June, 2019.â€ At this point, the coal business is already on its heels, so campaigners are increasingly focussed on gas and oil, but C.A.â€™s move shows that big, quick shifts are possible.
The prospect is appealing and seems to hold promise. It’s also interesting from the perspective of liberal versus anti-capitalist environmentalism. If the global banking industry provides substantial help in pushing the world economy off fossil fuels, what would that imply for analyses that hold capitalism itself to be the root cause of climate change?
The Guardian is reporting that G20 countries have tripled their subsidies for coal:
The figures, published in a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and others, show that Japan is one of the biggest financial supporters of coal, despite the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, having said in September: â€œClimate change can be life-threatening to all generations â€¦ We must take more robust actions and reduce the use of fossil fuels.â€ The annual G20 meeting begins in Japan on Friday.
China and India give the biggest subsidies to coal, with Japan third, followed by South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia and the US. While the UK frequently runs its own electricity grid without any coal power at all, a parliamentary report in June criticised the billions of pounds used to help to build fossil fuel power plants overseas.
The material from the Overseas Development Institute being reported on is online: G20 coal subsidies: tracking government support to a fading industry. The executive summary explains: “G20 governments continue to support coal through US$27.6 billion in domestic and international public finance, US$15.4 billion in fiscal support, and US$20.9 billion in state-owned enterprise (SOE) investments per year across the G20. This includes support through a wide range of instruments to prop up coal production, coal-fired power production, and other consumption of coal and coal-fired power, as well as support which is justified as a means of facilitating the transition away from coal.”
The Economist reports:
[A]ccording to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in America dropped by 2.7% in his first year of office. This was the biggest reduction anywhere in the rich world.
Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist who now heads the EPA, has been quick to praise â€œPresident Trumpâ€™s regulatory reform agendaâ€ for this. In fact, the decline has little to do with the presidentâ€™s policies. Americaâ€™s carbon dioxide emissions have been on a downward trajectory since 2007, mostly because power plants have been switching to cheaper, cleaner natural gas and away from Mr Trumpâ€™s beloved rock. According to the Energy Information Administration, a government agency, America guzzled nearly equal quantities of coal and natural gas in 2007. Today natural gas provides twice as much energy as coal. Energy from renewable sources, like wind and solar, now make up just over 10% of Americaâ€™s energy consumption.
Since 2010 nearly 40% of the countryâ€™s coal-generating capacity has either been shut down or designated for closure. This is mostly because rival fuels were cheaper, rather than the Obama administrationâ€™s Clean Power Plan, which was much derided but never actually went into effect. Even under Mr Trump, coal plants are expected to shut down 11.4gw of capacity this year, the most since 2015. No American utility plans to build a new coal-fired plant; most of the existing ones are at least 40 years old. The environmental regulations that the Trump administration is trying to undo will not restore the coal industry to its glory days, though they might slow its decline.
As always, the fight against climate change isn’t just about moving in the right direction, but moving fast enough to avoid disaster.
Still, every setback for coal is welcome for those hoping for a safe and prosperous future.
The IPCC has issued a new warning about how we have a stark and immediate choice between abandoning fossil fuels or dangerously destabilizing the Earth’s climate.
If anything, we seem less well prepared than ever to respond. Instead of a brave experiment in cooperation and moving beyond narrow notions of national sovereignty, the EU is fracturing into bickering sub units. The United States is run by incompetents. Canada’s government is scrupulously committed to fighting climate change, just as long as that doesn’t actually require reducing domestic or global GHG pollution. And meanwhile Indian and Chinese fossil fuel demand keeps galloping upward.
There’s the increasingly abstract hope that as global conditions continue to worsen somehow governments will get seriously, and then there is the sealed envelope hope/fear that we will contain the worst via geoengineering.
A Finnish government representative is saying they will introduce legislation to phase out coal and bring in a carbon tax in 2018.