US commits to phasing out coal power in major climate breakthrough

The US joins 56 other countries who have agreed to phase out coal power for the sake of the environment.

US commits to phasing out coal power in major climate breakthrough
The US jas joined 56 other nations in agreement to phase out coal power (Picture: Getty)
The US jas joined 56 other nations in agreement to phase out coal power (Picture: Getty)

The US has committed to the idea of phasing out coal power plants, joining 56 other nations in kicking the habit that is a huge factor in global warming.

US special envoy John Kerry announced that Washington was joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which means the Biden administration commits to building no new coal plants and phasing out existing plants.

No date was given for when the existing plants would have to go, but other Biden regulatory actions and international commitments already in the works had meant no coal by 2035.

‘We will be working to accelerate unabated coal phase-out across the world, building stronger economies and more resilient communities,’ Mr Kerry said in a statement. ‘The first step is to stop making the problem worse: stop building new unabated coal power plants.’

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry delivers opening remarks for the 'A New Energy Paradigm' panel at Business and Philanthropy Forum, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 2, 2023. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry delivered the news at the Cop28 summit in Dubai (Picture: Reuters)

Coal plants have already been shut down across the nation due to economics, and no new facilities were in the works, so ‘we were heading to retiring coal by the end of the decade anyway’, said climate analyst Alden Meyer of the European think tank E3G. That is because natural gas and renewable energy are cheaper, so it was market forces, he said.

By October, just under 20% of US electricity was powered by coal, according to the Department of Energy. The amount of coal burned in the US last year was less than half what it was in 2008.

Coal produces about 211lb of heat-trapping carbon dioxide per million BTUs (British thermal units) of energy produced, compared with natural gas which produces about 117lb and petrol which is about 156lb, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

The US had been pushing other nations, especially China and India, which are building new coal plants, to get rid of the fuel, which causes more heat-trapping carbon emissions than other power systems.

Saturday’s action ‘sends a pretty powerful international signal that the US is putting its money where its mouth is’, Mr Meyer said.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance was started six years ago and had 50 country members until the US and six others – including the Czech Republic and the Dominican Republic – joined on Saturday, said alliance spokeswoman Anna Drazkiewicz.

‘Energy transition is not an easy task and as such requires strong co-operation and support,’ said Kosovo environment minister Artane Rizvanolli.

Elsewhere during the climate talks, fifty oil companies representing nearly half of global production pledged to reach near-zero methane emissions and end routine flaring in their operations by 2030.

The pledge included major national oil companies such as Saudi Aramco, Brazil’s Petrobras and Sonangol, from Angola, and multinationals like Shell, TotalEnergies and BP.

However, environmentalists have rubbished the pledge as a ‘smokescreen to hide the reality that we need to phase out oil, gas and coal,’ in a letter signed by more than 300 civil society groups.

Marcelo Mena, chief executive of Global Methane Hub, rejected the notion that having near-zero methane emission commitments was a way to delay a phase-out of fossil fuels.

‘We wouldn’t let oil companies leak into the ocean until phase-out, so why would we let them leak out methane to supercharge climate change?’ said Mr Mena, a former environment minister in Chile.

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