Powering past coal

Hopes of ending reliance on the dirtiest of all fossil fuels took a major positive step forward this week as an alliance of 19 nations committed to phasing out the use of unabated coal power.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance was launched by UK Climate Change Minister Claire Perry, Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, and John Silk, Marshall Islands’ Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at the UN climate summit in Bonn, Germany, this week. Mexico, France, Finland, New Zealand, Italy, and Denmark have all backed the UK and Canadian-led push, and they have now been joined by 21 other signatories, including El Salvador, the US states of Washington and Oregon, and Canadian provinces Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario.

The launch of the Alliance, which invites governmental entities from around the world to phase out dirty coal power plants, has been greeted as a “political watershed”, signaling the end of dependence on the high-carbon fuel that currently provides 40% of the world’s electricity. It comes just days after an open meeting held at the Summit by US officials in which attempts were made, despite noisy protests, to push coal and nuclear power, and in which industry representatives from coal, oil, gas, and nuclear power companies were prominently featured.


Coal production and consumption has been particularly targeted by climate change advocates due to both its high greenhouse gas emission (electricity generated from untreated (dirty) coal results in the production of twice as much CO2 gas per unit of electricity than even treated coal), and to the adverse health impact associated with air pollution generated by coal combustion. It has been estimated that pollution from the burning of fossil fuel kills 800,000 people a year. Latest research published in the Journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine has also shown a ‘strong association’ between high levels of fine particulate air pollution and male fertility.

The aim of the Alliance is to gain 50 national and regional signatories by the time of next year’s UN climate change summit in Poland. Businesses are also being invited to formally signal their backing for the group and its goals.