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EU wind and solar propulsion not enough to limit global warming as coal use is still in its infancy

Renewables have mainly replaced gas, not coal, as of 2019. Graph showing the change between 2021 vs. 2019 in EU27 electricity production (%)

New renewables installed in the EU largely replaced expensive gas power last year instead of more polluting coal, and still fall short of what’s needed, according to an analysis by an energy research organization. to limit global warming.

Coal power in Europe is down just 3% in 2021 from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, far less than the 29% decline recorded in 2019 when compared to 2017 levels, according to Ember, the organization non-profit based in London.

Polluting fuels accounted for 15% of EU electricity production last year, compared with 22% in 2017.

In the first half of 2021 – before supply constraints drive up gas prices – newly installed renewables will largely replace coal and nuclear power. But from July, new clean electricity has almost exclusively replaced gas.

Ember estimates that EU electricity sector emissions that cause climate change will need to fall by 6% per year to reach the net zero required by 2035 but are falling by about half.

“The current gas crisis should be a huge wake-up call,” said Charles Moore, the report’s author. “Both coal and gas need to go; and nimble.”

Removing the world from coal was a key promise made at the United Nations COP26 climate summit in November and is seen as a key step towards achieving net-zero emissions globally. .

“Action is needed to make sure Europe’s coal phase-out is on track,” Mr. Moore said. “Law is the only way to ensure that coal plants close by 2030. Fluctuating gas prices have made it clear that you cannot rely solely on market forces.”

Fossil fuels account for 37% of EU electricity production in 2021, compared with 39% in 2019. Renewables generate another 37%, and nuclear makes up the rest.

As gas prices escalated, power plants sought to replace fossil fuels with renewables as well as with coal. The price is so high that have more benefit for power plants to switch to coal even though it means they have to buy more subsidies at a higher price under the EU’s emissions trading scheme.

The price of the program-traded credits, which allows owners to emit one tonne of carbon per credit, has nearly tripled in the past year to around €90 per ton of carbon.

The slowdown in coal phase-out means EU electricity sector emissions are not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to Ember analysis. , according to Ember’s analysis.

The International Energy Agency has estimated that achieving that goal will require electricity sector emissions to be net zero by 2035 in advanced economies.

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

However, the block’s wind and solar power generated more electricity in 2021 than gas for the first time.

Soaring energy prices have led some politicians and energy industry analysts to question the move to renewable energy. But climate change experts have dismissed the link.

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

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