European emissions from coal fell by an impressive 11% in 2016, according to analysis of new figures published by the European Commission this week.
At the end of March, the European Commission published preliminary 2016 data under the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). European non-profit think tank Sandbag analyzed the data, finding that total European Union (EU) ETS stationary emissions fell by 2.4% in 2016, from 1803 million tonnes in 2015 to 1759 million tonnes in 2016.
Additionally, Sandbag’s analysis found that the “aggressive fall in EU ETS emissions is because of falling power sector emissions.” Specifically, EU power sector emissions fell by 4% in 2016, thanks in part to a decrease of 11% in coal generation. Natural gas emissions climbed, offsetting somewhat the decline in coal, as the closure of numerous coal plants required natural gas to step into the gap.
Unfortunately, according to Sandbag, “The ETS carbon price did almost nothing: a €5/tonne carbon barely changed the relative coal-gas economics.”
Nevertheless, since 2010, overall power sector emissions have fallen by 19% due to massive clean energy investment, helping to see coal’s generation emissions fall by 16% over the same time.
Almost half of the fall in coal emissions during 2016 came due to plant closures in the UK, which itself saw a massive 58% year-on-year fall in coal emissions. Since 2010, the UK’s coal plant emissions have fallen by an impressive 71%, and according to Sandbag, “Nearly every UK coal power plant has seen its generation collapse, thanks to the UK’s carbon price floor – an £18/tonne top up to the EU ETS price.”
However, the UK wasn’t the only contributing factor, with big coal emissions decreases in Spain (27%), Greece (21%), and Italy (17%). Unfortunately, the two biggest polluters in the EU saw the smallest reductions. German coal plant emissions fell by only 4% in 2016, and Poland coal emissions only fell by a measly 1%. In fact, since 2010, coal emission decreases have been comparatively small — a decrease of only 5% for Germany and 7% for Poland.
“Coal power plant emissions fell by an impressive 11% in 2016,” explained Dave Jones, Sandbag Electricity Analyst.
“But emissions from Europe’s 280 coal power plants still accounted for 39% of total EU ETS emissions. It is clear that phasing out coal in favour of renewables is the quickest and cheapest way to rapidly reduce ETS emissions, and policymakers must figure out how to make this happen. A near-zero carbon price is doing nothing to help this. The low carbon price is also stalling industrial decarbonisation, where emissions have fallen by less than 1% in the last four years.”