EU wind and solar energy are not enough to limit global warming as coal use remains stubborn


Newly installed renewable energy in the EU has largely replaced expensive gas energy, not coal, which polluted more last year, according to an energy think-tank analysis, and has yet to meet what is needed to limit global warming.

Coal energy in Europe fell by just 3 per cent in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, far less than the 29 per cent drop recorded in 2019 compared to 2017 levels, according to Ember, a London-based nonprofit.

Polluting fuel accounted for 15 percent of EU electricity production last year, compared to 22 percent in 2017.

In the first half of 2021 – before the supply crisis boosted the price of gas – newly installed renewable energy sources largely replaced coal and nuclear energy. But since July, new clean energy has almost exclusively replaced gas.

Emissions from the EU’s energy sector that cause climate change should fall 6 percent a year to reach the net zero needed by 2035, but have been reduced by about half that rate, Ember estimated.

“The current gas crisis should be a big wake-up call,” said Charles Moore, author of the report. “Both coal and gas must go; and fast. ”

Weaning the world from coal was a key promise made at the UN COP26 climate summit in November, and is seen as a key step in achieving global net zero emissions.

“Action is needed to ensure that Europe’s phasing out is kept on track,” Moore said. “Legislation is the only way to guarantee that coal-fired power plants will be closed by 2030. Volatile gas prices have made it clear that you can’t just rely on market forces.”

Fossil fuels accounted for 37 percent of electricity production in the EU in 2021, compared to 39 percent in 2019. Renewable energy sources produced another 37 percent, and nuclear energy accounted for the rest.

As gas prices rose, electricity producers sought to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources as well as coal. Prices have risen so much that it is more cost effective to switch electricity producers to coal even though it meant they had to buy more permits at higher prices under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

The price of loans traded under the scheme, which allows the holder to emit a tonne of carbon for each loan, has almost tripled over the past year to around € 90 per tonne of carbon.

The slowdown in the phasing out of coal meant that emissions from the EU’s energy sector were not on track to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, according to Ember’s analysis.

The International Energy Agency estimated that in order to achieve that goal, it would be necessary for emissions from the energy sector to reach net zero by 2035 in advanced economies.

Although EU countries, including Spain and Greece, have closed coal-fired power plants since 2019, this has been largely offset by increased coal use in Poland.

However, in 2021, wind and solar energy in the block produced more electricity than gas for the first time ever.

Rising energy prices have prompted some energy industry politicians and analysts to question the shift to renewables. But climate change experts have dismissed the link.

“I think this is completely wrong,” said Lord Adair Turner, a senior fellow at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. “What we are facing is a failure to go fast enough. . . What happened tells us how vulnerable we are to them [fossil fuel system]. ”

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