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Canada and UK push for coal phase-out against opposition from USA and Germany

Author : Alan Franck, Editor, Hazardex

08 December 2017

Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and her UK counterpart, Claire Perry, launched an international alliance to phase out coal-fired electricity at the Bonn UN climate summit in mid-November, signalling a sharp contrast with US President Donald Trump's promotion of coal as a key global energy source and Germany's continued reliance on the fuel source for electricity generation.

UK and Canadian environment ministers Claire Perry and Catherine McKenna
UK and Canadian environment ministers Claire Perry and Catherine McKenna

Canada's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions include a national carbon pricing plan and federal-provincial moves to shut down traditional coal-fired power by 2030.

The United States, used its platform at Bonn to highlight the Trump administration's support for coal and other fossil fuels. US Energy Secretary Rick Perry is proposing an American-led alliance that would encourage developing countries to invest in more efficient coal plants. In contrast, McKenna and Perry highlighted their countries' plans to phase out coal-fired power as a model for the world and will aim to rally international investors to finance lower-carbon options rather than coal.

McKenna said the Canadian government is not only committed to meeting its Paris target of cutting GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. It will go further and adopt a more ambitious target in the coming years.

Meanwhile, a report by the NGO Energy for Humanity published at the Bonn summit, European Climate Leadership Report 2017, Measuring the Metrics that Matter, claimed Germany's Energiewende policy had significantly worsened climate change by shutting down carbon-free nuclear capacity and locking in a dependency on coal burning for decades, despite hundreds of billions in investments and subsidy-schemes.

Germany is by far the largest emitter - accounting for 18.3% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association and Turkey, which is why their strategy matters so much for net greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, according to the report.

Germany is not decarbonising as fast as other large emitters - it is the 14th of 23 countries analysed - and, by exporting electricity generated by fossil fuels, Germany is significantly increasing the CO2-intensity of neighbouring countries' electricity consumption, the report said.

"Climate leaders are countries with hydro-power resources and strong policies to support nuclear energy, alongside renewables. These countries include Switzerland (hydro and nuclear), Norway (hydro) and Sweden (hydro and nuclear). In contrast, anti-nuclear Austria backs up its hydro capacity with fossil fuels, driving down its overall climate performance," the report said.

"Countries that have pragmatic yet ambitious climate and energy policies, such as the UK, are driving down their emissions. The UK has achieved the largest absolute reduction in GHG emissions in Europe from 2010-2015. Some Eastern Europe countries like Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic, have also decreased their high emissions levels significantly in the recent years while growing their economies," it added.

For the first time, the data accounts for cross-border flows of carbon emissions. Importing dirty electricity impacts the carbon intensity of electricity consumption in some countries. The report strongly recommends that policy makers take imports and exports into account, it says. And a high percentage of installed new renewable capacity "does not guarantee" low CO2 emissions, it adds.

"The decision to shut down its nuclear plants prematurely means Germany has to keep its massive fleet of lignite and hard coal power plants on the grid far into the future. Germany is already failing its 2020 emission reduction targets, and there is currently no indication that it will do much better in the future. Far from advancing decarbonisation, the anti-nuclear Energiewende has locked Germany into long-term carbon dependency," the report says.

"On the other hand, the UK serves as a strong example where carbon reduction is mandated by law. Recent climate policy actions have started to work, and most recently the country has pledged to shut down its coal burning fleet by 2025; new coal plants can only be built if they are equipped with carbon capture and storage technology," it adds.

Energy for Humanity Executive Director Kirsty Gogan added: "France, with [the] decision to not force accelerated shut-downs on its nuclear fleet, is bound to stay on top as one of the most decarbonised nations, while Germany falls further behind.

The economics of the energy sector in the USA favours fracked gas at the moment, so it is doubtful if the Trump administration can achieve a turnaround in the decline of the coal industry in that country.

But in Germany, support for the coal industry remains strong on the centre-right, which is still likely to dominate politics despite the relatively poor showing of Angela Merkel’s CDU in the recent elections.

Three German environmental NGOs — BUND, WWF Germany, and German Nature Conservation (DNR) — have issued a joint statement saying that, based on figures from the Federal Ministry of Environment, if nothing changes in the next two years Germany will miss its carbon reduction targets by at least eight percentage points, mainly due to continued reliance on dirty coal. Such a failure, they say, would seriously undermine Germany’s credibility with other nations, and it is hard to disagree with them.


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