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United Kingdom—The Policy of Reducing Dependence on Coal-Fired Power Plants

Though the complete phase out of coal-fired power plants was only officially announced in January 2016—with an aim for completion by 2025—there has been a concerted effort for multiple decades to reduce the UK’s dependence on coal when meeting its’ energy needs. This was motivated by the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act, the world’s first legally binding national emission reduction document, which mandates 5-year plans for reaching net zero emissions by 2050 that include deep cuts to emissions from the energy sector.

The rapid reduction in coal-fired power plants is credited with being the biggest driver behind the UK’s fall in total emissions between 1990 and 2015. Coal usage from 2013 to 2015 dropped 41%, with the drop from 2014 to 2015 totaling 21%. In 2016 alone, 8 gigawatts of coal capacity (half of the UK’s remaining coal capacity) was closed. In the EU, in 2014 to 2015, the UK achieved the largest emission reductions (19,422 Kt CO2; compared to the next biggest reduction of 3,638 by Greece). This was largely attributed to the switch from oil and coal to gas in electricity production and accounted for 7.5% of all EU reductions that year. Regarding longer-term trends, emissions from the UK’s energy sector have fallen from 277.9 MTCO2e in 1990, to 144.1 in 2015—a 48% reduction. The Government has stated that ‘this decrease has resulted mainly from changes in the mix of fuels used for electricity generation, primarily from a decline in the use of coal at power stations’.

This policy of reducing dependence on coal-fired power plants and replacing them with gas and renewable energy sources is a policy that is easily replicable in a wide variety of contexts. This is due to the current availability of access to renewable technologies through technology transfers that are mandated by international climate change agreement. Also in play is the rapidly decreasing price of renewable energy combined with increased consumer interest and willingness to use them. This policy is also easily scalable with the speed at which dependence on coal is decreased and which alternatives are used to replace coal, able to be dictated by the relevant authority. Reforming emission-intensive energy sectors and replacing the burning of fossil fuels with renewable alternatives, is a key for all countries to achieve their international emission reduction commitments in the Paris Agreement. The necessity of implementing these policies is self-evident.

The UK’s INDC pledge was within the EU’s pledge. Post-Brexit, the UK will probably have to create a new INDC and the EU’s pledge will have to be redistributed among the other member states. This will be to the detriment of the EU, as the UK’s emissions reduction pledge was one of the highest. It is not yet known what the UK’s new INDC will be.

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