At the time of writing there are limited reports of this coal breakthrough in mainstream media and I wonder why such an important issue fails to be included in our news feeds. The UK plans to phase out all coal by 2025, announced by Claire Perry minister for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy at UN COP23 on 16th November 2017. I want to shout this from the rooftops. The UK has joined with more than 20 other countries in a Powering Past Coal Alliance and I am feeling relieved.
Phasing out traditional coal power is one of the most important steps governments can take to tackle climate change and meet our commitment to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C
While the detail of how this will be achieved has not been made explicit until the launch of the Tories flagship Industrial Strategy, it is clear that government representatives are hearing the message of urgency from climate scientists. The Alliance paper states that the cost of generating power from solar and wind has reduced so much that it makes clean power a viable option going forward. Battery storage will need further research and investment to ensure the UK can store energy for use when the sun doesn’t shine.
While solar has reduced in cost, the Feed-In-Tariff has also reduced, and solar is still unaffordable to many families. In the interim while I wait for some government initiative (or a small lottery win) I have switched my energy to a 100% renewable tariff, but I long for the day that I can be the proud owner of photovoltaic cells on my roof. This latest commitment may help with the cost of solar in the near future.
Wind too should be more prominent in our landscapes. I cannot relate to the people who are concerned about the aesthetics of turbines – nor the people who argue that too many birds are killed. Whenever the opportunity arises I refer them to research on the effects of pesticides on bird numbers or statistics on how many more birds are killed by cats or cars, but I digress…. Passing the gigantic graceful white blades of a wind farm reminds me to feel joyful that we can do this, we can make a difference. When determination and adaptation persists here, we really are showing countries like India and China that we practice what we preach, which many encourage them to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance. Other European countries have already joined the Alliance, and seeing as Germany are journeying on with renewable infrastructure it is possible they will power past coal earlier than 2025.
For the UK to meet this new commitment, one of the first easy wins would be to address the billions of public money tied up in fossil fuels. An amazing campaign by Fossil Free UK has enabled citizens to find out how much their council is investing in companies that contribute to climate change. By getting councils to divest from fossil fuels we would increase finances in green clean energy. You don’t have to wait for Claire Perry to take this one forward – you can do this yourself by writing to your County Council and urging change. It is hugely hypocritical to join a Powering Past Coal Alliance and not to address pension investments, so I thoroughly hope that the minister will be turning this around quickly.
One of the more challenging aspects to this commitment will be to encourage more energy saving behaviour from the public. We simply cannot continue to consume as much as we do and continue to live the way we do, if we are to keep global warming below 2°C. How the government plan to tackle this I have no idea, but I would certainly welcome a return of the public announcement advertisements that sought to raise awareness of climate change nearly a decade ago:
This campaign was pulled following a series of complaints that it was too scary. I applaud the efforts made by the then Department of Energy and Climate Change to communicate the altogether terrifying facts of climate science. Climate change is happening. We need to face up to it and take action to change the path that we are on.
If we all do our bit at citizens to consume less, AND governments keep their commitments on phasing out coal by 2025, AND other countries are inspired to join the Powering Past Coal Alliance, perhaps we have a chance of slowing global warming. I might even get to install my solar panels after all. And so might you.
(For research on cats as bird killers see Marra, P., & Santella, C. (2016). Belling the Cat. Natural History,124(9), 22-27. )