The progress towards a Europe beyond coal has been accelerating like never before – but not everyone in the EU has been on their best behaviour when it came to coal in 2021 …
Christmas Eve is soon upon us and Saint Nicholas is readying for his yearly trip across the globe to deliver gifts … and lumps of coal.
There’s a reason why ol’ St Nick’s punishment of choice for wicked weans is a lump of dirty coal in their stockings. The combustion of coal emits enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, driving the climate crisis. It also releases numerous toxic substances that pollute the air, soils and waters.
All I want for Christmas is a coal-free EU
For the European Union to honour its commitment of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, as well its own pledge to achieve zero pollution as part of the European Green Deal, it needs to phase out the use of coal by 2030.
As the dangers of coal for the health of people and planet are becoming increasingly prominent and the profitability of the sector continues to freefall, a coal-free Europe is fast becoming an inevitable reality – but some countries and institutions still remain reluctant to kick the coal.
He’s making a list and he’s checking it twice…
As Santa loads up his sleigh (powered by renewable reindeer energy of course), EEB’s META has had exclusive access to a copy of that all-important list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Read on for some honourable and dishonourable mentions.
The Nice List
Portugal became the fourth EU Member State to consign coal to its history books, closing its last remaining coal plant in November. Portugal joined the no-coal club ranks alongside Belgium, whose last coal plant closed in 2016, and Austria and Sweden, who both became coal free in 2020.
Germany’s new coalition government came to power in December, with the party leaders of the SPD, Greens and FDP presenting their deal which included an accelerated coal phaseout “ideally” by 2030. A ramp-up from a previously declared 2038 phaseout, this newfound ambition from the EU’s largest Member State and a top coal consumer sends a stark message to the remaining EU laggards.
Germany’s place on the nice list is tenuously held however: despite high expectations, the coalition deal fell short on climate leadership elsewhere, with a missed chance to commit to a 2035 fossil gas exit, putting climate targets at risk and leaving citizens exposed to the volatility of its prices.
The realities of sky-high carbon permit prices saw Greece announce that it will be saying goodbye to coal three years earlier than planned, in 2025, when its last lignite plant is set to close. Greece will join the likes of Hungary, Ireland and Italy on the list, with these Member States also set to phase out coal in 2025, alongside France who will do so even earlier in 2022.
The Naughty List
Poland keeps its top spot on the coal naughty list in 2021, sticking to its distant 2049 date for a coal phaseout. The way-off target remained even following a fumble on the global stage for Poland at this year’s COP26 in Glasgow where it backtracked just hours after signing an international commitment to exit coal.
Meanwhile, the infamous Turów mine at the Polish borders with the Czech Republic and Germany continues to run, despite the European Court of Justice having ruled that operations must be halted to prevent irreversible environmental damage. The EU’s top court ordered a €500,000 fine to be paid by Poland to the European Commission every day the mine continues to operate – a pricy penalty that could be better spent on a just transition for the Turów communities.
Hot on the heels of Poland for top spot on the coal naughty list, Bulgaria continues to drag its feet on its coal phaseout exit, having presented a phaseout date for 2038-2040 in its pandemic recovery plans submitted to the European Commission.
The Member State’s coal industry is on the brink of collapse and the huge sums of money needed to bring it into line with EU emissions standards would be put to better use in renewable energy investments and retraining schemes for workers.
Maintaining the momentum
2021 was a big leap in the journey to a coal-free Europe, with the soaring cost of carbon and the rise in renewable energy use, robust emissions targets, and the tireless efforts of civil society and citizen engagement all driving the way forward.
On the global front, the COP26 saw an unprecedented focus on ditching coal and the resulting Glasgow climate pact targeting coal and other fossil fuels for the first time in such an international agreement.
Maintaining momentum in 2022 and the years ahead will be crucial: if the EU wants to stay off the naughty list, it needs to ensures a just and green transition from coal, avoiding fossil gas lock-ins that misalign with climate neutrality ambitions. Because no one should be getting coal for Christmas – or any other time of the year.