It’s Friday, March 10, and the U.K. is powering past coal.

Yellow, canary shaped signs protesting coal

Coal demand in the United Kingdom fell by about 15 percent in 2022, going so low that it broke a 266-year record. Not since 1757 has the country used so little coal — about 6.2 million metric tons, according to a new analysis from the website Carbon Brief. That was just one year after the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Austrian composer.

“Last time U.K. coal use was this low, Mozart was still in nappies,” tweeted Simon Evans, Carbon Brief’s deputy editor and policy editor.

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U.K. coal demand skyrocketed during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries and peaked at 221 million metric tons in 1956. Since then, most of the country’s coal use has been displaced by other energy sources like natural gas and — more recently — renewables. Coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, now accounts for about 1.5 percent of the U.K.’s electricity generation, while solar, wind, and hydropower make up 33 percent.

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Much of the U.K.’s progress in phasing down coal can be attributed to the country’s 1956 Clean Air Act, which aimed to clean up pervasive air pollution in and around London. More recently, the U.K. has cited climate change in its pledge to stop using coal for electricity generation by October 2024.

This pledge was called into question last year as Europe faced a gas shortage following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the coal “comeback” that some experts feared did not materialize thanks to warmer-than-average temperatures that tamed the U.K.’s demand for heating fuel, as well as growth in solar and wind power.

These conditions also contributed to a decline in the U.K.’s climate pollution from all sources. Although global emissions grew in 2022 due to a post-COVID resurgence of travel and business, the U.K. saw emissions decline by about 3.4 percent to 412 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Carbon Brief says similar reductions will be needed every year for the next 30 years for the U.K. to reach its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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