A Brexit from coal
It’s Wednesday, October 2, and Britain is keeping calm and closing its coal plants.
Back in the early 1970s, nearly 90 percent of the U.K.’s electricity came from coal and oil power plants. This year, coal accounts for less than 1 percent, having been pushed out by renewables and natural gas. Only five operational coal power plants remain in the whole United Kingdom, and by next summer, there will only be three.
Britain has made a concerted effort to end its reliance on coal, announcing in 2015 that it would phase out the dirtiest fossil fuel entirely within 10 years. Not five years later, they’re already closing in on that goal. The U.K. has cut its carbon output from generating electricity faster than 24 other major economies, including China, Denmark, Germany, and the U.S.
So how did the U.K. end its coal dependence? Well, a lot of it had to do with a surge in use of natural gas (which is less polluting than coal). It powered roughly 40 percent of Britain’s electricity grid in 2018. Renewables were a close second at 33.3 percent, and nuclear was responsible for about 20 percent.
Green policies helped drive the change, including the British government instituting a carbon tax in 2013. “The British experience shows that any country can actually do it, it’s a question of putting the policies in place to do it,” Richard Black, director of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, a U.K. environmental think-tank, told the Financial Times. “Had Germany decided to tackle coal first rather than nuclear [which it has committed to phasing out by 2022], I think Germany could be in a similar position to the U.K.”
More than 1,600 people have been killed in India by unusually heavy rains this monsoon season. The country’s densely populated northern states have suffered the greatest damage and loss of life, with out-of-date forecasting systems and standard infrastructure leaving many communities unprepared for this season — which has been one-tenth wetter than average.
Hurricane Lorenzo is expected to hit Portugual’s Azores Islands today and then head for Ireland. The Category 2 storm has made it further east than hurricanes usually do in the North Atlantic, and coastal European nations are bracing for disruptive winds, rain, flooding, and storm surges.
Climate and weather aren’t the same thing, but this week is certainly demonstrating how much climate change is affecting the weather. A heat wave across the eastern and Midwest U.S. has as many as 162 places sweating through new record-high October temperatures.