Climate

This Country Just Promised To Get Rid Of All Its Coal Plants

CREDIT: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

Tower Colliery in Wales, now closed, was the oldest continuously worked deep-coal mine in the United Kingdom, and possibly the world. The U.K. announced this week it would go off coal power in the next decade.

The United Kingdom will phase out coal-fired power plants by 2025, the country’s energy secretary announced Wednesday.

This comes as welcome news to some — the U.K.’s electricity sector is responsible for a third of the country’s carbon emissions, and coal is a significant part of that. But Secretary Amber Rudd also emphasized the role natural gas would play in the country’s energy future, which disappointed environmentalists.

“In the next 10 years, it’s imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built,” Rudd said. “Gas is central to our energy secure future.”

Rudd has consistently supported increasing Britain’s use and production of national gas. The secretary took the opportunity to call for more fracking, since the U.K. already imports half its gas, and Rudd’s department projects that amount could be as high as 75 percent by 2030.

“We’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports,” Rudd said.

Fracking is a touchy subject in the United Kingdom. Last year, the British government opened up bidding for fracking licenses on nearly half the country’s total land area, and over the summer, Rudd issued a statement warning local councils — which process permits — that applications must be considered in “swift process.”

The moves have prompted protests, particularly in Northern England, where many of the licenses were issued.

“While it’s genuinely historic news that the U.K. will phase-out coal by 2025, this is tempered by government intentions for a huge new generation of gas-power stations, fueled by fracking,” Friends of the Earth’s senior energy campaigner Simon Bullock said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.

In the United States, fracking has been blamed for explosions, water contamination, and methane leaks that drive climate change.

According to the most recent data, in 2014 renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, made up nearly 20 percent of the U.K.’s electricity, up from just under 15 percent the year before. Meanwhile, coal decreased from 36 to 30 percent of generation.

But the government has come under fire lately for proposing cuts to key programs that have helped the transition to solar energy.

“U.K. energy policy should overwhelmingly be focused on boosting renewable power and energy efficiency,” Bullock said. “Gas is too high-carbon for a long-term future.”

As Rudd mentioned in her speech Wednesday, the U.K. is responsible for 1.2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. Despite the low level, the move to get off coal was framed as part of a positive signal that a firm commitment at the upcoming Paris climate talks is important.

“Climate change is a global problem,” Rudd said. “And that is why achieving a global deal in Paris next month is so important.”