Historic moment UK says it will phase out coal

Full video report by ITV News Science Correspondent Alok Jha

Coal is by far the dirtiest, most polluting fuel. If the world wants to reduce its overall carbon emissions over the next few decades, as is the stated aim for the UN climate talks in Paris in two weeks time, it will have to stop burning this easily-available, seductive black rock.

That's easier said than done, of course. Coal is cheap and developing countries such as India won't be quick to give up on using coal to power their growing economies and bring millions of their people out of poverty.

Coal is by far the dirtiest, most polluting fuel. Credit: PA

And the West can hardly take the moral high ground with that aim, given that we used coal to power the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and, inadvertently, caused the climate change we now have to tackle.

If the world is going to persuade India and others to compromise its use of coal, it's only right that the richer countries take the lead.

This morning's announcement by Environment Secretary Amber Rudd that the UK will aim to phase out coal in its power sector by 2025 is a historic moment - it means that the first major country in the world to start burning coal to power its economy will also be the first to completely phase it out.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd Credit: PA

Environmentalists will no doubt celebrate the news. Coal produced around 20% of the UK's electricity in the second quarter of 2015.

Its removal from the power sector will be a sizeable contribution to meeting the UK's targets to cut greenhouse gases.

But a cynic would also argue that this was an easy win for the government and a long time coming - most coal-fired power stations in the UK are 40 or 50 years old and would have come to the ends of their lives by 2025 anyway.

And there are other climate-related contradictions. The government wants to focus away from coal and on to gas-powered plants (which a cleaner but still emit carbon dioxide) and nuclear (which is low-carbon but will take a long time to build).

At the same time, subsidies for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar have been slashed over the recent months, with the government arguing that these technologies need to be able to compete in the market if they are to succeed.

Again there's a contradiction, as Richard Black of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit points out with the developers of the new nuclear power station at Hinkley getting a "whopping subsidy until at least 2058".

Still, today's announcement puts the UK into a good position ahead of the UN's COP21 climate meeting in Paris. Even former US Vice President and celebrity environmentalist Al Gore is pleased.

Al Gore Credit: PA

The decision by Prime Minister David Cameron to phase out the United Kingdom’s unabated coal power stations by 2025 sets an excellent and inspiring precedent as we head into COP21.

With this announcement, the UK is demonstrating the type of leadership that nations around the world must take in order to craft a successful agreement in Paris and solve the climate crisis.

The UK has become the first major economy to set a clear date to phase out coal, and I am hopeful that others will follow suit as we repower the global economy with the clean energy we need for a sustainable future.

– Al Gore

David Nussbaum, chief executive of environmental group WWF-UK said: "We are pleased that the Government is offering some clarity over their ambitions for the power sector. However, this is a speech [...] focused on secure infrastructure - and we have not future-proofed that infrastructure against the serious impacts of climate change."

As the Government will highlight, decarbonising our economy will involve a mix of technologies.

But the way to develop a climate resilient economy and to be fair to bill payers is to pursue renewables ambitiously and to do so now. Other countries are taking advantage of the fact that around half the global energy infrastructure being built today is renewable.

And as renewables prices tumble the global market booms. Is Britain happy to be left behind?"

– David Nussbaum, chief executive of environmental group WWF-UK

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