Coal is being phased out of Europe! Well, over a dozen European nations will have abandoned the world’s deadliest fuel source by the end of the decade. And the most exciting part, twenty-five European countries are scheduled to be coal-free by 2030.

In 2016, Belgium became the first European nation to phase out coal. With the addition of Sweden, Austria, and Portugal to the list of European states that have explicitly abandoned coal for household heating and electricity generation, four countries in Europe have done so. 

According to Europe Beyond Coal, six more nations are likely to phase out coal by 2025: France (2022), Slovakia (2023), the United Kingdom (2024), Ireland (2025), and Italy (2025). Greece (2028), the Netherlands (2029), Finland (2029), Hungary (2030), and Denmark are anticipated to accompany shortly in 2030. 

And the Czech Republic, Spain, and North Macedonia have recently announced plans to phase out coal-fired power generation. Additionally, Germany has stated that it will shut down its last coal plant by 2038, while its coal departure law is yet to be finalized.

Some nations emit more carbon dioxide than ever before, especially those with rapidly expanding economies like China, which accounted for the most significant chunk of global greenhouse emissions surge for the past few years. On the other hand, many others are retreating from the planet’s polluting fuel source.

Surprisingly, global coal pollution fell by approximately 1% in 2019, owing in significant part to substantial decreases in coal consumption in Europe. Coal is being gradually disposed of in Europe, and the endgame of coal plants is on the horizon, or at least plausible.

Coal free EU countries

Coal-Free Countries of Europe
Coal-Free Countries of Europe

1. Belgium

Right from the beginning of the 1990s, Belgium’s fossil fuel energy sector has been in a state of collapse, with power facilities closing sequentially. 

Belgium’s decision to phase out coal plants is an essential milestone toward the unavoidable switch away from coal and oil. 

The closure of the Langerlo coal power plant has resulted in a reduction of over 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emission in Belgium each year. 

This stat represents more than 1% of the nation’s total GHG pollution. It has also saved thousands of tons of environmental pollution, such as Nitrogen oxides, Sulfur dioxide, toxic metals, and particulates, for the Belgian population.

2. Austria

On Friday, April 17th, 2020, Austria formally shut down the last of its coal-fired power stations and became the second European nation to do so after Belgium in 2016. 

After almost a year of persistent agitation by climate campaigners Global 2000, Verbund’s Mellach coal-fired district heating facility was officially closed. 

Austria has phased out coal use while promoting sustainable power and the European Green New Deal. The country is an outstanding demonstration of creating stronger, greener, and more enduring economies.

3. Sweden

With this last standing coal power station, Stockholm Exergi AB’s Värtaverket, irreversibly shutting down two years before the schedule, Sweden became the third EU country to completely phase out coal from power generation. 

The declaration advances Stockholm’s and the European Union’s strategy to combat the climate catastrophe. The city of Stockholm aims to be carbon neutral by 2040, and the facility’s retirement will reduce the plant’s pollution by roughly half.

4. Portugal

Portugal is the fourth nation in Europe to seal its final operational coal-fired power plant in November 2021, effectively eliminating the use of the toxic substance for energy production. The decision comes a staggering nine years ahead of Portugal’s goal of eliminating fossil fuel consumption by 2030. 

Climate activists inform that the task now is to guarantee that providers do not make the error of substituting natural gas or damaging biomass for coal. 

Getting rid of coal and then switching towards another fuel energy is definitely not the solution. Instead, states should swiftly scale up the sustainable energy potential in wind and solar.

Coal-Collapse in Europe

In 2019, a substantial number of coal facilities shut down occurred in Europe, with numerous nations announcing coal phase-out strategies and power providers taking new moves toward deactivating their coal facilities. 

According to a group working to make Europe coal-free by 2030, while coal had been in fundamental collapse, COVID-19 and the accompanying social isolation procedures had resulted in further decreases in coal use. 

The actual impact of the pandemic on the energy sector is still to be known. Still, the European coal economy has difficulty decreasing power requirements, low gasoline prices, and expanding renewables.

‘Canceling coal,’ as one of the most hazardous fossil energy, is a top agenda for the COP26 conference. And, it has been seen as one of the most politically feasible green benchmarks in the current financial environment. 

In aggregate, Euro nations have been aggressive in minimizing coal’s proportion of the power mix. Since 2013, demand for coal in Europe has decreased by 43%, a phenomenon known as a “coal collapse.” 

However, to maintain global warming within 2 degrees Celsius, progress toward carbon reduction and “far from coal” must be hastened. 

According to a Carbon Brief research, carbon dioxide emissions from coal combustion must be halved globally within the next ten years. 

In response, approximately 40 coal-limiting measures have been implemented by European credit intermediaries in 2020 alone, and several financial institutions have stated plans to stop funding new coal initiatives all around the globe.

How did they do it?

The European Union has affixed with the international congregation in pledging to keep rising temperatures “well below 2°C” and undertake measures to ensure global temperature increases to 1.5°C over pre-industrial values by accepting the Paris Agreement. 

The European Union will need to swiftly decarbonize its energy market in order to meet this target. Coal, notably coal-fired power stations, contributes largely to the EU’s pollution. Switching out coal with alternative sources in the energy market is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce pollution.

In March 2020, a nearly century-old saga ended abruptly as the last lump of coal was torched in a Copenhagen co-generation system. 

The Greater Copenhagen utility company HOFOR has financed a newly inaugurated biomass-fired co-generation facility to substitute the final coal-fired co-generation unit.

The coal-fired facility was terminated, resulting in a half-million-ton reduction in emissions every year. Furthermore, Copenhagen joins the ranks of coal-free metropolises such as Stockholm, Vienna, and Brussels.

Strategic plan

Climate intelligence devised a system for evaluating a coal power station phase-out timeframe in the European Union. The central question was: what parameters should be used to identify when individual elements should be turned off? 

From the standpoint of ecological degradation, the decision is unimportant as long as pollution is lowered at the appropriate rate. And from the perspective of legislators, plant proprietors, and other parties, however, this is a pivotal factor.

The research proposes two ways for achieving a comprehensive phase-out of coal application in power generation in the European Union, including a retirement deadline for every coal-fired power plant. Both methodologies analyze the effectiveness of units in terms of carbon output and yield production. 

The first strategy, known as the Regulators Perspective, prioritizes closing down the most carbon-intensive facilities immediately. In contrast, the second strategy, known as the Market Perspective, prioritizes closing down the units with the least revenue-generating capacity.

Who and what next?

Many European governments have made bold pledges to cut carbon footprints and eventually eliminate carbon fuels. One of the primary priorities is to phase out coal. Only three coal-fired co-generation units stand in Denmark, putting it on track to meet the goal. 

However, the green movement does not end with the phase-out of coal. Denmark has set a lofty aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70% in ten years and become fossil-fuel-free by 2050. The opening of the new co-generation facility at the Greater Copenhagen power plant HOFOR is far from the end of the company’s efforts in a green and peaceful future.

By 2021, France is highly likely to be coal-free. It was the first major nation to shut its last coal mine in 2004. However, some power stations continue to operate using overseas coal, which costs a fraction of what French coal does, notwithstanding the closure of French coal sources.

Italy’s economic development official said that the nation will phase out coal by 2025, in a declaration widely hailed as good news for the environment. On the other hand, the administration has yet to explain its plan for reaching this pledge.

Wrapping Up

Solar panels instead of Coals | Image Credit – Pixabay

At the United Nations climate change conference, coal combustion took a beating as a wide range of European nations agreed to phase out the fossil fuel from their electricity sector. 

Europe drew twice as much energy from coal five years back as it did from solar and wind power. Coal now accounts for only 12% of power generation in the European Union, while wind and solar together account for 21%.

The positive results for green and sustainable energy are attributed to unusual circumstances: a 7% plunge in power consumption due to the coronavirus pandemic and lots of bright and stormy weather in the first quarter of the year, which aided solar and wind power.

The dramatic collapse of coal power in Europe is moving quicker than any of us ever expected. The ultimate truth is that every nation must phase out coal usage to combat climate change. However, climate change is a worldwide issue that Europe will not tackle just by its promises to go coal-free. 

The global community must pay heed and follow the footprint if the European nations are to be a launching point for a low-carbon economy.

(Last Updated on March 28, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!