COP26 must consign coal power to history

COP26 must be an important step along the road towards ending coal power generation, if we are to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change and ensure access to clean, affordable and reliable energy for all. By Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) | October 28, 2021

Countries, local leaders and the private sector need to seize this opportunity to increase ambition, present new commitments to move from coal to clean energy and join the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) to advance the transition globally, building on the momentum that has been growing all around the world this year.

The overarching aim for the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow is to ‘keep 1.5 degrees alive’. Rapid phase-out of emissions from coal power, which so far have been the single largest source of global temperature increase, is one of the first and most critical steps the world must take to deliver on the 1.5-degree goal.

According to the IEA, all countries and businesses need to immediately stop new construction of coal-fired power plants and phase out existing plants completely by 2030 in the OECD, and by 2040 in the rest of the world. Ambitious commitments to accelerate the phase-out of unabated coal power generation in line with these timeframes and in a way that benefits affected workers and communities are one of the main benchmarks for success in Glasgow.

Since its creation in 2017 by the United Kingdom and Canadian governments, the PPCA has grown to more than 130 members, including countries, cities, regions and businesses around the world who are taking decisive action to meet fast approaching coal end dates and driving up ambition globally, helping other countries identify and implement solutions to accelerate their phase out efforts. Recognising the work of PPCA members, the UK COP Presidency has chosen the Alliance as one of the primary vehicles to deliver on the summit’s ambitious goal to “consign coal power to history”.

To boost momentum and empower countries to move away from coal ahead of the COP, in March 2021, the Alliance convened leaders from government, international organisations, business, and civil society for the largest gathering on coal phase out: the first-ever virtual PPCA Global Summit. The meeting served as a springboard for action in the following months, especially thanks to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ powerful call on all countries and organizations to double down on efforts to power past coal.

New momentum

Thanks to the growing global momentum driven by the PPCA, many more governments and organisations have made new commitments to end coal finance, stop new construction of coal power plants and accelerate the phase out of existing plants and joined the Alliance this year. Especially in the OECD and EU, coal phase-out progress has been accelerating, with 56% of operating coal either retired since 2010, or scheduled to retire by 2030. 62% of OECD & EU governments are now members of the PPCA and on their way to phasing out coal by 2030.

In Europe, half of coal plants have already closed or are scheduled to close pre-2030. Mirroring this remarkable progress, six European national governments and the first region in Poland have joined the Alliance this year. Spain’s membership was particularly significant, thanks to its world-leading just transition strategy, which the PPCA will help spread as a model for countries across the world. Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia entered the Alliance as the first Western Balkan countries committing to quitting coal. Hungary’s membership announcement was accompanied by a commitment to completing coal phase-out by 2025, five years ahead of the original plan. Finally, Poland’s coal mining region Eastern Wielkopolska has committed to exit coal by 2030, 19 years earlier than the national government’s end date for hard coal.

The PPCA has also expanded its presence in Asia, with new major subnational government members in South Korea and Japan setting great precedents in the continent which accounts for almost 80% of global coal power generation. In South Korea, Gangwon and Jeollanam Provinces and Daegu City have joined the PPCA this year, bringing PPCA membership in the country to eight subnational governments covering 80% of coal power generation. In Japan, the PPCA welcomed Kyoto City as its first member. Subnational government participation helps pave the way for national governments to commit to a swift coal phase-out and join the PPCA.

The PPCA has also been elevating the vital role of global businesses and financial institutions in accelerating the global transition away from coal. To date, twenty-two financial institutions accounting for over USD$6 trillion in assets have joined the Alliance, demonstrating that they are taking a leadership role in enabling a zero-carbon future. This year’s additions include Amundi (France), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ, Canada), California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS, United States), M&G Plc (UK), and Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP (Netherlands). Further impetus for accelerating the coal-to-clean transition comes from major utilities’ membership, including ZE PAK (Poland), National Grid (UK), Ontario Power Generation and Capital Power (Canada), and engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald who all joined this year. Around the world, businesses are exiting coal as they account for the rapidly falling prices of renewable alternatives and the costs associated with growing climate risks.

High ambition

Collective diplomatic action across governments and international organisations, including the PPCA, was instrumental to many significant commitments made this year. In June, the G7 leaders agreed to an end to new overseas finance for coal power plants by the end of 2021 and to move to overwhelmingly decarbonised power systems in the 2030s. South Korea, Japan and China – previously the world’s largest financiers of coal power overseas, have also pledged to end coal finance. New funding to accelerate coal transition has been put in place, including plans by Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and United States to commit up to $2 billion in the coming year to Climate Investment Funds’ Accelerating the Coal Transition and Integrating Renewable Energy programs.

Signals of greater international ambition include recent announcements by a group of governments who launched a No New Coal Power Compact, aiming to lead by example and encourage all other countries to commit to stopping new construction of coal-fired power plants. Thanks to the recent collapse of the global coal pipeline, which has plunged by over three-quarters in the last five years, many governments could readily commit to “no new coal” at the COP.

COP outcomes

The recent commitments to end coal finance, stop new construction of coal power plants and accelerate the phase out of existing plants provide an important boost for the prospects of success in Glasgow. But governments and organisations need to build upon these recent achievements and go further if the world is truly going to power past coal in time to keep 1.5 degrees alive. For the seismic shift in global energy systems that is needed, the UK COP Presidency has indicated that the coal phase-out outcome of COP26 needs to include the following five elements:

  • Many more countries pledge to phase out coal in a sustainable and economically inclusive way by 2030 in the OECD, and by 2040 everywhere else, and join the PPCA,
  • Governments and financial institutions end public and private coal finance,
  • Many more countries pledge to stop new construction of coal power plants and join the No New Coal Power Compact,
  • Developing countries receive more support for accelerating their coal transition,
  • International cooperation to advance the energy transition globally across national and local governments, business and finance sectors and civil society is further strengthened, including through growth of the PPCA.

Beyond COP

Significant progress in these areas in Glasgow would demonstrate that an end to unabated coal power is within reach and establish a clear pathway towards achieving this goal. The hard work to implement the new commitments while providing proper support for affected workers and communities, as well as empowering those lagging behind will need to begin immediately. The PPCA and its members stand ready to help make progress in some of the most fundamental areas in the energy shift, including shifting financial flows, utility and grid transformation, and a just transition. They can offer their extensive expertise on how to overcome challenges, scale up solutions and make a leap towards a fairer, safer, healthier future for all.

This artice was first published here.