EU's coal use drops by a third in clean energy shift

Phasing out the fossil fuel is regarded as crucial to meeting global climate targets

The EU’s coal consumption has dropped by a third in two years in a boost to Europe’s clean energy drive.

The sharp decline began before the pandemic as countries shifted to cleaner energy.

Coal power plants are among the top polluters in Europe, and EU leaders agreed at June’s G7 summit to speed up efforts to phase out the fuel.

But with some members still reliant on fossil fuels, tensions over coal are regarded as an obstacle to the EU’s plans for a sweeping green overhaul.

Brussels faces resistance from industry-heavy countries in Eastern Europe that fear the plans will affect jobs and increase energy costs.

Poland accounts for 96 per cent of hard coal production in the EU and nearly half of all consumption. The Czech Republic is the only other producer.

But as countries moved to cleaner energy, consumption of hard coal across the bloc fell by 35 per cent between 2018 and 2020.

Germany is the biggest consumer of brown coal, also known as lignite, a softer fuel that is mainly used to produce electricity.

Brown coal is regarded as damaging to the environment because it is mined in open-air pits and used in relatively inefficient power plants.

Mirroring the decline in hard coal use, consumption of brown coal across the EU dropped by 33 per cent from 2018 to 2020.

Eurostat, the EU agency that published the figures, said the decline in coal use had accelerated from 2019 onwards – before the onset of Covid-19.

It said this was because countries had shifted to natural gas and renewable energy sources, and cut their production of coke, a substance used to make iron and steel.

The figures showed EU coal consumption is nearly two thirds lower than in 1990, the year used as a benchmark for the bloc’s emissions targets.

In a June report, the European Environment Agency said most of the EU had reduced coal use but faster cuts were needed at large power plants.

“Achieving the goals set by the European Green Deal will imply a much faster abandoning of fossil fuels,” it said.

Pressure to phase out coal is growing after a report by a UN panel this week said the world had a narrow window to stave off climate catastrophe.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said countries should use the Cop26 summit in November to “consign coal to history”.

G7 leaders promised in June to end new government funding for coal power by the end of the year.

But tensions over coal led to disagreement at a recent G20 climate summit where countries failed to reach a deal on phasing out the fuel.

Britain’s Cop26 chief Alok Sharma described the failure as disappointing and said abandoning coal was necessary to reach global climate targets.

Updated: August 11th 2021, 12:55 PM