Progress on Killing Coal, But 'Much, Much, Much More Needed'

The world’s wealthiest nations appear to be slowly acknowledging the destruction that decades of coal burning has wrought on the environment, though campaigners are warning that pledges to curb subsidies and close power plants still fall substantially short of the “radical shift” necessary to keep global warming beneath the stated goal of 2°C.

UK Energy Secretary Amber Rudd on Wednesday announced that her country would close all coal-fired power plants by 2025, making it first major global economy to commit to such a plan.

That came on the heels of an announcement Tuesday that the 34 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) agreed to cut back on subsidies to build coal power plants overseas, but not eliminate the financing completely. The OECD claims the move represents a “major step” ahead of the COP21 climate talks “towards aligning export credit policies with climate change objectives.”

However, while both developments were seen as significant milestones in the movement to end coal, environmentalists say that neither goes far enough to tackle the polluting legacy and future of coal power. For example, the UK plan calls for an increase in nuclear power and plants fueled by fracked gas, rather than renewable alternatives. 

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“We welcome that UK wants to close all coal-fired power plants by 2025,” Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice & energy co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth (FOE) International, told Common Dreams. “But the UK needs to do much, much, much more. They have huge responsibility for climate change, and they need to end all fossil fuels completely. They cannot move to fracking, nor nuclear. They need to completely transform their economy away from dirty energy.”

Similarly, because the OECD agreement only slashes some of the group’s credit financing for coal power plants and ignores altogether subsidies for mining, transport, and related coal infrastructure, “it won’t do what is needed to solve the climate crisis,” FOE stated.

“With so many loopholes, this agreement has more holes than a sieve,” said FOE U.S. international policy analyst Kate DeAngelis of the OECD plan.

A visual analysis of the global use and impact of coal power published Wednesday reveals that western governments, which by and large grew their wealth through decades of coal-fired industry, continue to subsidize coal power both at home and in developing nations, despite it being one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

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