‘Political watershed’ as 19 countries pledge to phase out coal

The Guardian, 16 November, 2017

New alliance launched at Bonn climate talks hopes to signal the end of the dirtiest fossil fuel that kills 800,000 people a year with air pollution.

A new alliance of 19 nations committed to quickly phasing out coal has been launched at the UN climate summit in Bonn, Germany. It was greeted as a “political watershed”, signalling the end of the dirtiest fossil fuel that currently provides 40% of global electricity.

New pledges were made on Thursday by Mexico, New Zealand, Denmark and Angola for the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which is led by the UK and Canada.

“The case against coal is unequivocal,” said UK climate minister Claire Perry, both on environmental and health grounds – air pollution from coal kills 800,000 people a year worldwide. “The alliance will signal to the world that the time of coal has passed.” The UK was the first nation to commit to ending coal use – by 2025 – but the electricity generated by coal has already fallen from 40% to 2% since 2012.

“There is a human cost and an environmental cost but we don’t need to pay that price when the price of renewables has plummeted,” said Catherine McKenna, Canada’s environment minister. “I’m thrilled to see so much global momentum for the transition to clean energy – and this is only the beginning.” The alliance aims to have 50 members by next year.

Asked about Donald Trump’s US administration, whose only event in Bonn was to promote coal, McKenna pointed out that renewable energy already employs 250,000 people in the US, compared to 50,000 in coal, and said this is the clean growth century: “The market has moved on coal.”

But McKenna said it was very important that communities dependent on coal jobs received help. Mohamed Adow, at Christian Aid, said: “It is a rebuke to Trump from the UK and Canada, two of America’s closest allies.”

The current alliance includes a few nations like Fiji that do not use coal and does not include any Asian countries where much of the world’s coal is used. Australia, the region’s biggest supplier of coal, has refused to join. But Nick Mabey, chief executive of the E3G thinktank, said: “The launch of this new alliance is a political watershed moment. Governments have now grasped the reality that coal use can end, and fast. The only way for coal is down.”

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