G7 countries enact coal exit plan but Greenpeace label it ‘too little, too late’

Article by Aniqah Majid

G7 Italia, g7italy.it/en/
G7 nations expect to phase out coal by 2035.

THE days of coal-fired electricity are numbered after G7 nations agreed to phase out production of the fuel by 2035 at a meeting in Turin, Italy.

Global CO2 emissions climbed to 37.4bn gigatonnes in 2023, a 410m t increase from 2022, with coal accounting for 65% of that increase.

Energy and climate ministers concluded in a limit for global warming and meet the goal of the Paris Agreement.

It marks the first time G7 countries have set a date for exiting coal, with discussions on the phase-out having started last year in Hiroshima.

Andrew Bowie, UK minister for nuclear and renewables, heralded it as a “historic agreement”, but environmental organisation Greenpeace has slammed the G7 plan as “too little, too late”.

Tracy Carty, the global climate politics expert of Greenpeace International, said: “G7 countries must ditch this dinosaur, planet-wrecking fuel no later than 2030. And as the climate emergency demands they can’t just stop at coal. Fossil fuels are destroying people and planet and a commitment to rapidly phase out all fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – is urgently needed.”

Leeway for big coal producers

The meeting report also included an alternative goal that specified phasing out coal in a “timeline consistent with keeping a limit of 1.5°C temperature rise within reach, in line with countries’ net-zero pathways”.

Sources told Reuters that this addition may provide wriggle room for G7 nations like Japan and Germany, where coal produces around a quarter of their total electricity. Germany’s Coal Phase-Out Act states that coal will be phased out by 2038.

Japan is the only G7 nation that does not have an individual coal phase-out date, with the US planning to phase coal out by 2039, and the remaining countries, including the UK, Canada, Italy, and France, committed to exiting by 2030.

Nations pushing for coal exit

The UK has had a decades-long plan via the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) to phase out coal and reduce emissions.

Currently only one coal-powered plant remains, the 2,000 MW Ratcliffe power station in Nottinghamshire, with the remainder either having closed or converted to oil or biomass plants.

The US’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalised four restrictions on coal which could accelerate the shrinking number of plants in the country, currently at 242 in 2022 according to data published by IEA.

The new rules, enacted through the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, state that new natural gas plants and coal plants hoping to run beyond 2039 must cut or capture 90% of their emissions by 2032.

The EPA expect plants to cut emissions using carbon capture and storage technology that will be funded by the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Coal plants will also need to reduce their mercury pollution by 70% and reduce pollutants in wastewater by more than 660m lb/y under the new rules. The EPA’s impact analysis on these new rules estimates they would reduce carbon emissions by 1.4bn t by 2047.

Industry backlash

Industry has criticised the EPA plans, however, saying they fail to provide energy security at a time when demand for electricity remains high.

Rich Nolan, CEO of the National Mining Association, said: “[The government] has refused to account for irrefutable evidence that electricity demand is soaring, disregarded validated reliability warnings from grid experts related to coal plant closures, and ignored the basic fact that there is no adequate replacement ready to replace the sorely needed, dispatchable generating capacity coal provides once it is shuttered.”

The US and UK have invested in biomass and nuclear solutions to facilitate the transition away from coal. The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a report showing that coal-reliant communities could generate US$275m by converting coal plants to nuclear using small modular reactors (SMRs).

The next G7 meeting will be held in Puglia, Italy in June, when Pope Francis is expected to attend and talk to leaders about the ethical use of AI.

Article by Aniqah Majid

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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