As the EU wants to get ambitious on climate change, it will have to act fast and decisevely on coal – which is the source of 28 per cent of CO2 emissions. About 600 coal-fired power plants are still in operation in the EU, especially in Germany and Poland.
At the European Council meeting held on 12 December, EU member states announced 2050 as the target year for climate neutrality. And in her Green New Deal plan presented the day before, the president of the Commission called for speeding up efforts in the near term. Fast and forceful action is going to be necessary in all areas of the economy. But there is one sector where we will need to act even faster and more decisively: coal. Although it now accounts for only 14 per cent of the total energy consumption of the EU, it is the source of 28 per cent of their CO2 emissions, mainly via electricity production.
Fortunately Europe has (almost) stopped building coal-fired power plants, but there are still nearly 600 of them in operation. Two countries in particular are concerned: Germany and Poland. They account for half of the EU’s coal consumption.
The enormous challenge facing these two countries cannot be met without better European coordination. In the case of Poland (and other Eastern EU countries), financial support will also be needed. We must also stop denigrating Germany’s nuclear phase-out policy: German electricity production from fossil fuels is not increasing, it is declining. Indeed the German government has just reached a compromise with the affected regions to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2038.
The disproportionate weight of Germany and Poland does not absolve the other countries of their responsibilities, but these have been assumed somewhat unequally. Whereas in 2000 the UK was still burning between two and three times as much coal as France, its consumption has been lower than France’s since 2017, thanks in part to the introduction of a floor price for carbon. On the continent, although CO2 prices have risen, they are still not high enough to steal a march on coal.