Fifteen European governments have developed coal phase-out plans, with Austria, Belgium, and Sweden now coal power free. While phaseouts are welcomed, almost all of them are too slow to avoid catastrophic climate change, and too often part of energy transitions that are based on large-scale, corporatecontrolled renewable energy systems that do not challenge the power relations and growth-imperative in energy policy.
To illustrate this, we introduce a few countries and their national coal phase-out plans, which are actually not as straightforward as governments would like us to think. What we need is meaningful and systemic change, and rapid closure dates for all coal power stations, whilst no new coal power stations are built anywhere.
Germany – 2038
The German government is proposing paying coal companies to stop burning coal by 2038. This compensation is deeply problematic. Such payments fail to look at the harm these companies have caused – knowingly – and the millions of Euro they have invested into financing climate change deniers and stopping or delaying meaningful climate action. Rather than compensating those who were hurt most – people in the global South, and instead rewards the abusers and fails to provide any useful message to other highly polluting and socially damaging industries.
United Kingdom – likely 2024, certainly by 2025
The British government is keen to be seen as a world leader in the race to phase out coal. It is likely to bring forward the phaseout date for coal power stations from the legally mandated 2025 to 2024. However, no announcements have been made regarding UK coal mining or the use of coal in steel works and other industries. Government projections in 2016 suggested that coal use in power stations could end by 2022 without state intervention, so while the government might congratulate itself and celebrate its ‘green leadership’, the plans may not bring an earlier end to coal as a fuel for electricity generation.
Romania – no phase-out plan at all!
Romania has no coal phase-out plan despite the government’s talk of the need for climate action. The country’s 2020 National Energy and Climate Plan forecasts 1.98 GW of installed coal capacity in operation in 2030, providing approximately eight percent of the total energy mix. This is despite the fact that in this period, many units will exceed their economic operating period, the costs of emissions taxes under the Emissions Trading Scheme allowances will increase, and the emission limits will become even stricter once new pollution limiting techniques come into force. Romania has been given the third largest pay-out from the EU’s Just Transition Fund, giving the country the resources to implement a just transition away from coal.
Sweden – strong at home but still profiting from coal abroad
Sweden closed its last coal-fired power station, Stockholm Exergi AB’s Värtaverket, in April 2020. The closure was brought about two years earlier than initially planned, and the phase-out includes district heat plants as well as electricity generation. Sweden’s reliance on coal was low preceding the phase-out. However, the Swedish state owns Vattenfall AB, whose subsidiary, Vattenfall Group, operates seven hard coal power stations in Germany and the Netherlands. So, while the Swedish government may look ‘progressive’ or ‘green’ on the surface, it still contributes to overseas pollution while taking the profit.
European countries are taking different decisions regarding coal phase-out dates, but they are considering what other governments are doing. Czech Republic, for instance, followed neighbouring Germany in its unambitious 2038 coal phase-out date. Slovenia is also expected to make a similar announcement. Just because these distant phase-out dates exist, the need to take action to close coal power stations as soon as possible remains. We must keep the spotlight on this highly destructive industry, and the human and environmental abuses caused by coal, every day, until no more coal is mined or burnt anywhere. This is vital to support the communities that struggle with coal impacts now.