Two weeks ago, Longannet, Scotland’s last remaining coal-fired power station (and the largest coal plant in the UK), ceased all operations. Less than a week later, Langerlo, Belgium’s last coal plant, did the same. The closures added the two countries to a growing list of European Union members that have ended their reliance on coal, among them Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. By 2020, they will be joined by Portugal and, by 2025, Britain and Austria, if their projections are correct.
It would appear that the “golden days of the coal industry are over,” as Joanna Flisowska of Climate Action Network Europe, told DeSmog UK.
According to DeSmog, a quarter of all EU countries have now quit coal.
This news is invigorating for climate change activists like Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, who have crusaded against burning fossil fuels for decades. It’s also in line with the pledges made by nations at COP21, the Paris Climate Summit, whereat the world pledged to fight global warming by transitioning to clean, renewable sources of energy. But even this growing coalition of anti-coal countries may not be enough to stop global temperatures from rising to inhospitable levels by the end of this century.
Scientists have estimated that more than 80 percent of the planet’s coal reserves must stay in the ground to prevent a 2°C rise in temperature – a seemingly insignificant shift that promises a monumental shift in ecological conditions.
Coal remains the cheapest but also the dirtiest form of generating energy. The carbon it emits remains trapped in the atmosphere, steadily warming the planet and leading to a host of environmental issues, including freak weather, droughts, ocean acidification and ocean warming. Burning coal also releases hazardous particulates into the air, including PM2.5 (particles under 2.5 micrometers in diameter). Particles of this size easily lodge in human tissue and contribute to strokes, coronary heart disease and obstructive pulmonary disease.
In China, where industrial development has rapidly increased, PM2.5 is a deadly threat. Air pollution from burning coal is widespread, especially along the nation’s northeast corridor that extends from near Shanghai to north of Beijing. An analysis conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, found that this pollution contributes to approximately 17 percent of all deaths in China, or 1.6 million deaths each year.
The most populous nation on Earth has recognized the health threat that coal poses and is joining European countries in cutting the fuel from its energy mix. According to Bloomberg, China reduced domestic output of coal by 4.8 percent and imports by 31 percent in the first eight months of 2015.
“More and more countries are trying to move away from burning coal for power,” Tom Pugh, a commodities economist with Capital Economics in London, said at the time.