The US has today officially joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), pledging to work to “accelerate unabated coal phase-out across the world” in a move that would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.
At an event on the sidelines of the COP28 Climate Summit in Dubai, the US joined the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Iceland, Kosovo and Norway in formally joining the alliance, which was launched in 2017 by the UK and Canada.
The new members have committed to not developing new unabated coal power plants and phasing out existing unabated coal plants in a bid to keep the goal of limiting global temperature increases to 1.5C within reach.
The inclusion of the US in the group represents a major coup for global efforts to phase out the most carbon intensive source of power, given the country has the world’s third-largest capacity of operating coal plants behind China and India.
“To meet our goal of 100 per cent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, we need to phase out unabated coal, and we urge the world to join us in doing so, while working to grow good-paying clean energy jobs,” said John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. “Together with the Powering Past Coal Alliance, we will be working to accelerate unabated coal phase-out across the world, building stronger economies and more resilient communities. The first step is to stop making the problem worse: stop building new unabated coal power plants.”
The commitment is broadly in line with the White House’s existing plans to deliver a net zero emissions power sector by 2035, which have seen no new coal plants built in the US in over a decade. The country is on track to close more than half its peak unabated coal capacity in the coming years, as the industry has struggled to respond to competition from cheaper renewables and gas fired power plants.
However, the commitment still represents a major milestone for what remains one of the world’s largest consumers of coal and will lead further weight to calls for the final text agreed at COP28 to feature firm commitments to phase out all unabated fossil fuels.
The PPCA today also hailed the expansion of the group into a number of heavily coal-reliant economies in central Europe.
For example, the Czech Republic is the third largest coal user in the EU, with coal accounting for nearly half its electricity generation. In joining the PPCA, the Czech government has confirmed its commitment to phase out coal power generation by 2033. Similarly, Kosovo, which gets 95 per cent of its electricity from burning coal, has committed to work with the Alliance to bring forward its current target date for phasing out unabated coal by 2050.
“By joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance, the Czech Republic has today taken another important step in the global effort to reduce emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, especially coal,” said Petr Hladík, Minister for the Environment for the Czech Republic. “The government reaffirms its commitment to end the use of coal in the Czech energy sector by 2033. We intend to work with members of the Alliance to share experiences on issues such as the just transition of regions affected by the restructuring and decline of coal and heavy industry in general.”
The PPCA said 35 out of 43 OECD countries are now members of the group and over three quarters of coal-fired electricity generation capacity in the OECD and EU is now on track to close by 2030, a rate of closures that is in line with what is required to keep temperature rise to 1.5C.
Co-founders of the group, the UK and Canada, today also confirmed they will host a PPCA Global Summit in London next year.
“The UK can be rightly proud of its record on coal having almost completely eradicated it as a source of energy in our country – and the work of the Powering Past Coal Alliance brings more and more countries together to work towards that ultimate goal,” said UK Energy Security and Net Zero Minister Graham Stuart. “To have 10 members – including the United States, Czechia and Kosovo – join our ranks is an extraordinary leap forward in moving towards cleaner sources of energy around the world, is a huge win for cutting emissions and, ultimately, achieving net zero in 2050.
“But there is more to do, and I’d urge all governments to work with us so that COP28 ends with a global agreement on no new coal and accelerating phase-out to keep 1.5C alive – with our Global Summit next year an opportunity to build on that success.”
The announcement will provide a further boost to hopes that the final agreement from the COP28 Climate Summit can include bold new commitments to accelerate the clean energy transition and provide a firm public commitment on the need to ‘phase out’ or ‘phase down’.
It also comes just a day after the official launch of a $15.8bn global financing deal with Vietnam to help wean the East Asian nation off coal power. The so-called Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) – the latest in a flurry of such deals with other coal-reliant nations including South Africa and Indonesia – is being led by a coalition of governments and private financial firms and is designed to mobilise investment in support of Vietnam’s target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Separately, a group of 22 countries, including USA, UK, France, Canada, Japan, South Korea, today backed a new goal to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050 – a target they hope to see included in any final agreement, alongside proposals from the UAE hosts for goals to treble renewables capacity and double the rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030.
The declaration marks the first time governments have joined together at a UN climate summit to publicly endorse the expansion of nuclear power. The declaration also calls on shareholders of the World Bank and other multilateral and regional financial institutions to include nuclear energy in their lending policies.
Kerry insisted the move was not intended to crowd out support for other forms of clean energy. “We are not making the argument to anybody that this is absolutely going to be a sweeping alternative to every other energy source,” he said. “But we know because the science and the reality of facts and evidence tell us that you can’t get to net zero 2050 without some nuclear. These are just scientific realities. No politics involved in this, no ideology involved in this.”
The announcement drew immediate criticism from some green groups, which maintain that nuclear projects are more costly than other forms of clean power generation and present significant safety risks.
However, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, hailed the commitment as evidence of “a new international consensus that we have to build out nuclear power at scale and at pace to hit net zero”.
The announcements on coal and nuclear come in the midst of a busy day at the Dubai Exhibition Centre, which has also seen Italy commit €100m to the newly launched Loss and Damage Fund, Costa Rica and Ghana unveil new deals to supply forest-based carbon credits, and the US Environmental Protection Agency finalise new standards to limit methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure.