Britain will bring forward its target to end the use of coal in electricity generation by a year to October 2024, minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said on Wednesday, urging others to follow suit and wean themselves off burning fossil fuels for power.
Before hosting the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November, Britain is stepping up its efforts to encourage other nations to cut emissions more quickly.
Ending the use of coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, for power could play a major part in limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F), a key international target.
With several countries still building new coal power plants, it is an uphill battle – one which Trevelyan, the minister for energy and climate change, thinks London can win.
“I am a very strong believer … that we should lead by example,” Trevelyan told Reuters, saying Britain’s journey away from coal in power generation, while lengthy, showed that other countries could do the same.
“You can’t do this overnight and security of supply has to remain … but we have done it, and we’ve demonstrated that it’s possible and that clean growth technologies have moved on a lot and many can invest in them.”
For some, the move was long anticipated and Ben Stansfield, environment partner at international law firm Gowling WLG, said the “focus should now shift from expected announcements to finalising the net zero roadmap and providing a regulatory system for businesses to work with”.
Since Britain completed its exit from the European Union last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been striving to build London’s influence on the world stage by taking a lead on climate targets in the run-up to hosting COP26 in Glasgow.
But the credentials of Johnson’s government have come under scrutiny from green groups, with several questioning how the proposed development of a new coal mine in northern England and an oil project in Scotland fit with ministers’ stated aims.
Trevelyan said any decision on the coal mine, which will produce coking coal for the steel industry, would come later this year, but that steelmakers may need the fossil fuel until they find the technology that would allow them to dispense with it.
A balance could be found, she said, through the government’s work on carbon capture and storage.
For now, Britain is focused on encouraging “other countries, big or small, I don’t mind, all of them to set a path to come away from coal-fired electricity generation,” Trevelyan said, describing any such move as a journey rather than a quick fix.
Britain, home to the world’s first coal-fuelled power plant in the 1880s and largely reliant on the fossil fuel for electricity for the following century, reduced its use of coal in the power sector to less than 2% of the electricity mix in 2020.
That compares with around 25% five years ago, and is far below the levels seen in some countries – China generated 53% of the world’s total coal-fired power in 2020, Ember, an energy and climate research group, found.
“We want to make sure we support those countries that make the decision and help them to invest in clean growth and draw in the sort of investments that can help those countries,” Trevelyan said.
“We want to help all those who want to make that transition to renewable and clean growth an absolute priority.”