Europe’s Coal Renaissance Undermines Its Green Credentials

  • Date: 04/09/14
  • Vanessa Mock, The Wall Street Journal

A revival of coal as an energy source across Europe is leaving a dark spot on the EU’s green credentials

The European Union prides itself as the being the world’s green crusader. It is fighting climate change with a set of ambitious targets to reduce future carbon-dioxide emissions and boost the use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, by setting an example to the rest of the world.

But a revival of coal as an energy source across Europe is leaving a dark spot on the EU’s green credentials, according to a new report by several environmental pressure groups. Coal is the most polluting of all fossil fuels in terms of CO2 emissions. EU countries are under pressure to phase out coal as part of EU-wide goals to cut emissions and boost the development of renewable energy sources.

At the center of Europe’s coal renaissance is the region around the German-Polish border, already home to five of Europe’s most polluting coal plants, says the report, which was compiled by CAN Europe, WWF, the European Environmental Bureau, the Health and Environment Alliance and Climate Alliance Germany. Swedish power firm Vattenfall GmbH is now planning to expand the number of open-cast mines in the Lausitz area to exploit its deposits of  lignite, a particularly polluting type of coal.

Vattenfall says the Lausitz mines, with their vast deposits, are there to take up the slack when renewable energy sources fail to meet Germany’s needs. “Without flexible and reliable brown coal, we wouldn’t be able to provide stable electricity supplies at stable prices,” the company says on its website.

What is striking is that the expansion of coal mining is happening in Germany at a time when Europe’s largest economy is forging ahead with ambitious and controversial plans to promote renewable energy. According to the report, Germany — along with the U.K. — had the highest number of coal plants with especially high CO2 emissions in the EU in 2013.

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