Coal left friendless as UK and wealthy nations cut ties


It’s been another devastating week for coal. Today, the UK government became the first major economy in the world to put a date on its end of coal, following hot on the heels of an agreement by wealthy countries to limit financing for the dirty energy source. Today’s announcement will see the UK close all of its coal-fired power plants by 2025, and lower their output from 2023, a move welcomed both in the UK and around the world as an “inspiring precedent” which could “pave the way for similar commitments” from other nations. But commentators warn the government continues to fuel “its addiction to fossil fuels” with plans to double down on gas power at the expense of a clean, renewable energy industry which is booming globally. In another blow yesterday, wealthy nation agreed to radically cut export credits for coal, which contributes more to climate change than any other, a move that promises to curb the growth of power plants in developing countries. With the coal industry facing continued decline and consumption set for a record drop in 2015, it is little wonder governments are signalling their shift away from the dirty energy source and that even the industry’s most desperate attempts to stay relevant are falling on deaf ears.



Key Points

  • The industry’s desperate attempts to stay relevant aren’t fooling anyone. While the coal industry continues in its weak attempts to sell itself as part of the solution, its misleading rhetoric is failing to hit the mark. New analysis this week warns that coal focused energy policies risk leaving billions of people without access to electricity and clean cook facilities by 2030. They say the easiest and most affordable way to get power to people is off-grid systems powered by solar or wind.


Today’s announcement from the UK government that all coal plants will be offline by 2025, and the OECD’s decision to stop coal export subsidies, are more gongs sounded in the coal industry’s death knell. Global coal consumption is falling: new figures reveal it sank 2.3-4.6 per cent in the first nine months of 2015 – the biggest drop in history. Analysts say half of global coal output is unprofitable, leading financial institutions such as US based Citigroup and Australia’s ANZ to cut back financing for coal. With experts warning coal and fossil fuel investments risk being lost, cities, celebrities and others are pulling trillions out of fossil fuels.

Various leading countries worldwide have already taken steps to stop digging and burning the polluting and harmful energy source. The US has closed down various coal plants, replacing coal with renewable energy and lower demand. In China, the drive to clean air, an increase in renewable energy and an economic transformation have led to the country favouring renewables over coal in its draft development plan. Across the world in recent months, people have turned out en masse against coal, making their voices heard in the protest at the harm it does to communities and health. The UK government, in finally putting a date to its previous commitment to phase out coal – the first major economy to do so – is at the front of a growing global trend.

The OECD decision to eliminate export subsidies to coal as from 2017 is a major step forward from the world’s wealthiest nations. Those countries alone have financed almost half the total US$73 billion spent on coal export credits worldwide over the past seven years, a recent report found. Subsidies to fossil fuels from G20 countries were four times greater, at $452 billion, than to renewables globally in 2014, figures show, and calls for fossil fuel subsidies to be removed for good are stronger than ever. Today’s OECD announcement on the restricting of public funding of coal technology exports is a step towards that full subsidy phase-out. It will push coal further under water, giving real impetus to the ongoing transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.

Some are trying to fight lonely battles against the tide of change. Some laggard countries who, like Japan, Australia and South Korea, are desperate to cling onto coal, managed to water down today’s OECD decision to end export subsidies. The UK – though it may garner glowing headlines for today’s announcement on coal – has also been slashing renewable energy support, sending local firms bankrupt, putting people out of work, and setting itself back years.  

With coal is clearly on the way out, the gas lobby is attempting to spin its way into hearts, minds and policies as a “clean” option. The speech at which Energy Secretary Amber Rudd announced the 2025 coal closure contained the caveat that coal should be replace by a “shift to gas”. And today’s EU ‘State of the Energy Union’ report has been criticised for its focus on gas, despite the EU’s “climate leader” rhetoric. Yet those who argue that gas is the solution are merely helping a different bit of the fossil fuel industry continue to pollute.

In the run-up to Paris, today’s pieces of news are clear signs of the inevitable transition from fossil fuels to renewables. When countries meet in under two weeks’ time, they can use this momentum to help usher in a renewable energy future and slam the door on fossil fuels for good.



OECD coal financing

UK energy policy


UK energy policy

EU State of the Energy Union



UK coal and energy policy announcement

  • “Amber Rudd is certainly taking UK energy policy in a new direction: unfortunately it’s backwards to the 20th century. Phasing out coal – if that’s what’s being suggested – is essential for the climate. But switching from coal to gas is like an alcoholic switching from two bottles of whisky a day to two bottles of port. The UK Government’s ongoing addiction to fossil fuels sends a terrible signal to crucial Paris climate talks, starting in a fortnight.” – Friends of the Earth’s senior energy campaigner Simon Bullock
  • “Launching a new dash for gas and new nuclear [in the UK] is not the solution as it will only lock in more dirty power than we actually need for a low-carbon transition” – Greenpeace’s head of energy Daisy Sands
  • “As the country that used coal to start the industrial revolution, it is right that we celebrate this historic moment as the UK becomes the first major economy to turn away from this deadly, polluting source of energy. Amber Rudd’s speech marks a welcome end for the use of coal. Now we must ensure that the government prioritises renewable energy to power the UK in the future. And in our role as a leader on the international stage, we must encourage global action on coal at the international climate talks.” – John Sauven, Greenpeace UK Executive Director
  • “As the [UK] government will highlight, decarbonising our economy will involve a mix of technologies. But the way to develop a climate resilient economy and to be fair to billpayers is to pursue renewables ambitiously and to do so now. Other countries are taking advantage of the fact that around half the global energy infrastructure being built today is renewable. And as renewables prices tumble the global market booms. Is Britain happy to be left behind?” – David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF
  • “Coal is the largest single source of carbon emissions worldwide and accounts for a quarter of UK carbon emissions, so it was high time the UK took the decision  to stop burning it. “Britain became the world’s first industrialised country on the back of coal, so ending hundreds of years of dependence is hugely symbolic. Ms Rudd’s decision to phase out coal is especially timely and boosts momentums ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris. Where the UK leads, others must follow. The OECD’s agreement to put tighter restrictions on coal technology is another nail in the coffin for climate-polluting coal.” – Alison Doig, Principal Climate Change Advisor, Christian Aid
  • “The decision by Prime Minister David Cameron to phase out the United Kingdom’s unabated coal power stations by 2025 sets an excellent and inspiring precedent as we head into COP21. With this announcement, the UK is demonstrating the type of leadership that nations around the world must take in order to craft a successful agreement in Paris and solve the climate crisis. The UK has become the first major economy to set a clear date to phase out coal, and I am hopeful that others will follow suit as we repower the global economy with the clean energy we need for a sustainable future.” – Former US Vice President Al Gore
  • “The first country to have used coal for electricity, since 1882, will become the first major country to completely phase it out. This sends an incredibly strong signal to other countries before the Paris climate negotiations, especially those with similarly old and unreliable coal plants. We need to systematically phase out coal globally and a British conservative government is leading the way. This would not have been possible under Corbyn’s Labour Party, who are still wedded to the coal industry.” – Ben Goldsmith, Co-Chair of the Conservative Environment Network and CEO of Menhaden Capital
  • “The UK has recognised the necessity of the end of coal and made it a reality, increasing the political momentum ahead of the Paris summit. Acting to end coal can help the UK recover credibility as a location for investment in clean technology. But if coal is simply replaced by gas the UK will continue its addiction to fossil fuels and is in danger of being left behind in the global clean tech race.” – Nick Mabey, CEO of E3G
  • “The UK has shown clarity of vision in committing to phase out coal power generation by 2025. Orienting its power sector to low-carbon energy would have domestic benefits to air and climate. But just as importantly the coal phase out will also have global impacts. It should pave the way for similar commitments from other developed countries. The UK is now also well positioned to help enable developing countries to leapfrog to clean energy.” – Ilmi Granoff, Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute
  • “Looking internationally, today’s announcement has big significance – particularly for other developed countries using coal for power, like the US and Germany. In 2015, global coal consumption will see its biggest fall on record.  But coal generation needs to be phased out if we want to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees.  The UK has now raised the bar: countries should no longer be thinking about how to reduce coal generation, they should be thinking about how to phase-out coal generation altogether.” – Statement from Sandbag
  • “Coal is the largest single source of carbon emissions worldwide and accounts for a quarter of UK carbon emissions, so it was high time the UK took the decision to stop burning it. Britain became the world’s first industrialised country on the back of coal, so ending hundreds of years of dependence is hugely symbolic. Ms Rudd’s decision to phase out coal is especially timely and boosts momentums ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris. Where the UK leads, others must follow. The OECD’s agreement to put tighter restrictions on coal technology is another nail in the coffin for climate-polluting coal.” – Alison Doig, Principal Climate Change Advisor
  • “A firm commitment from the UK government to phase out the unreliable and ageing coal fleet by 2025 is welcome. It sends a clear message to other world leaders before Paris that a future without coal is not only possible, but Governments are now wakening up to the reality that it has no place in a low carbon future for environmental, social and economic reasons. The UK Government now has a unique opportunity to untangle its inconsistent, incoherent and confused energy policy. But to demonstrate real leadership and sustainable solutions for the long-term, the commitment to phase out coal should be in the context of an overall policy that favours low carbon energy production, that does not overplay the capacity needed for security of supply and that does not lock in other fossil fuels. A dash for gas is clearly questionable when cleaner, greener alternatives are available.” – Susan Shaw, EU Energy and Coal Lawyer at ClientEarth
  • “It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations. Let me be clear: this is not the future. We need to build a new energy infrastructure, fit for the 21st century. Our determination to cut carbon emissions as cost effectively as possible is crystal clear and this step will make us one of the first developed countries to commit to taking coal off our system.” – UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd


  • “Coal is climate enemy number one and the OECD’s tighter restrictions on coal exports will cut funding to 80% of planned coal projects – but they should have been much tougher. Sadly these new export rules are incompatible with keeping global warming below 2 degrees.” –  Alison Doig, Principal Climate Change Advisor
  • “The Coal Atlas 2015 proves that there is no such thing as clean coal. Europe is still one of the leading coal consumers. Even in 2015, Europe still suffers from devastated landscapes because of huge coal mining projects, especially in Germany, and from toxic emissions in coal-dependent countries such as Poland. The resistance to a coal phase-out in Europe indicates a European Union in the grip of a powerful industrial coal lobby.  But the Coal Atlas makes it clear that Europe needs to shift away from its undemocratic, irresponsible and unjust energy system into one that is socially-controlled, climate-safe, and fair.” – Jagoda Munic, chair of Friends of the Earth International
  • “Europe has both a historic and current emissions debt, and therefore has a specific responsibility to accelerate the transition from its current energy-mix into an emissions-free one. The last few years have shown in Germany and other European countries that a dramatic increase in the share of renewables would not only be perfectly compatible with the requirements of highly industrialized economies, but would also generate important and significant effects on innovation and jobs. This is why the EU needs to enhance its policy instruments for a transition into the emissions-free era […] The European Union must give a very clear signal to phase out fossil fuels, and first and foremost coal, if it wants to lead the global transition into an emission-free world and have its specific weight in advocating for any possible climate agreement at the COP21 in Paris.” – Barbara Unmüßig and Ralf Fücks, presidents of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung
  • “The EU is heading towards the Paris climate talks claiming to be a climate leader, but the facts don’t add up: Europe continues to extract and burn coal within Europe. Globally, European nations use public money to finance dirty, human-rights abusive coal projects all over the world, whilst outsourcing emissions to coal-burning countries in the Global South – notably China – to produce goods for European consumption. These ‘hidden’ emissions add up to a vast footprint, and the EU’s current climate pledge falls dismally short of its fair share. The Coal Atlas shines a light on the huge deficit in ambition we see as we head into the Paris climate summit, and on the need for a radical shift away from coal.” –  Lucy Cadena, Climate Justice and Energy coordinator for Friends of the Earth International

EU State of the Energy Union

  • “The Commission has fallen for industry spin that gas is a solution to climate change and energy security. This position completely ignores the €400 billion the EU is spending every year on energy imports, and the overwhelming scientific consensus that the huge majority of fossil fuels, including gas, will need to remain in the ground if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Whatever global climate agreement is made in Paris next month, it will have to be enacted through real energy choices and investment decisions to move countries away from fossil fuels well before the middle of the century. It’s vital to back the right horse in the energy transition race and intensify efforts to save energy and switch to renewables.” – Brook Riley, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe
  • “This annual progress report on the state of the Energy Union holds no surprises.  The concept remains a vision with blind spots. Despite calling for a ‘move away from an economy driven by fossil fuels’ the Commission makes no mention of coal phase out, and includes ambitious plans for gas infrastructure. Despite wanting to be the ‘world number one in renewables’ the Commission fails to spell out how renewables can be at the heart of an energy transition which benefits people and our environment. Despite its strong rhetoric the Commission is yet to set out the much needed building blocks for a transparent, robust, and reliable governance framework within the Energy Union” – Imke Lübbeke, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office

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