Burning coal to generate electricity will come to an end in the UK in October 2024 – a year earlier than originally planned, the government has pledged.
A move to a “much larger mix of renewables” has been credited with the new deadline for coal power and comes ahead of this autumn’s COP26 summit, when world leaders will meet to discuss the climate crisis.
It is thought ministers will hope to persuade other nations to make similar promises when the summit is held in Glasgow in November.
The move only applies to the generation of electricity and not to other uses such as in the steel industry – but also comes amid controversial plans to open a new coking coal mine (which is needed for steel) in Cumbria.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, minister for energy, clean growth and climate change, defended plans for the mine – which is currently being reviewed through the planning system – and called the new deadline for the ending of coal power “fantastic news”.
When speaking to Kay Burley on Sky News, she said “alternate technologies” were being explored but that until something was found, “there will be a need for coking coal – so if we don’t use UK sourced, it will have to be imported”.
The minister added: “We have set a 2025 moratorium on unabated coal being used to generate electricity.
“We have brought that forward by a year to 2024 because we have been able to move to a much larger mix of renewables than I think when that 2025 date was set, which is fantastic news.
“There is coking coal used in heavy intense industries like steel and others where there is still a need because technology hasn’t yet found an alternative solution, but that coal isn’t burning for the purpose of electricity generation.
“Coking coal will continue to need to be used for a number of years yet. As part of the industrial decarbonisation strategy, we have a big focus on helping those heavy energy industries to find new ways to do their business.”
Coal is one of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels and creates harmful air pollution.
The government said that by “eliminating its use in electricity generation, the UK can make sure it plays a critical role in limiting global temperature rise” to 1.5C (2.7F) as one of its key aims of its COP26 presidency.
It said coal accounts for “only 1.8% of the UK’s electricity mix in 2020, compared with 40%” less than a decade ago.
In 2020, the UK went 5,000 hours without coal-fired electricity and earlier this year broke a new wind power record with just over a third of the country’s energy coming from that source, the government said.