Coal is only good as a stocking stuffer for bad children this year…at least in Belgium, which forced the closure of Langerlo power station last March and has effectively slammed its door in the face of the dirty power source.
Belgium was the seventh country in the European Union (EU) to put an end to coal-fired power, with countries all over the world beginning to kick the dirty habit. It follows the lead of Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta–which have already ‘quit coal.’
Portugal looks to be rid of coal by 2020, the United Kingdom by 2025, and Finland within the next decade. The UK shut down one-third of its coal capacity last year, including the closure of Longannet in Scotland, which hailed the ‘end of an era for Scottish Coal.’
It gives hope to those in countries like the United States, where 44% of energy production comes from coal, that perhaps we can make major progress toward ditching the world’s dirtiest energy source and put our energies into more renewable markets.
Ridding itself of coal power is a remarkable feat for Belgium, which depended on coal for more than 27% of its energy needs in 1994. The closing of Langerlo alone reduces the C02 emissions by almost 2 million tons annually, or more than 1% of the country’s total annual emissions.
Climate Action Network campaigner Joanna Flisowska calls the Langerlo closure “a significant step in the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels.”
‘Inevitable’ may not be fast enough, however. Time is not on our side. The world must leave 80% of its coal reserves unburned in order to stave off environmental catastrophe, according to the world’s leading scientists.
“To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the EU has to ensure that carbon emissions from its coal power plants are cut down much faster,” says Flisowska.
Even in Germany, a renewable energy powerhouse, coal still feeds 40% of the energy market. In countries like Poland, where coal-fired power is responsible for 85% of energy production and enjoys high levels of popular support, quitting coal can seem a dismally long way off.
To continue moving away from coal to smarter, greener energy production, political will must be developed as quickly as technological alternatives and planful rollouts.
Democratic societies must pay close attention to garnering support from workers and industrialists entrenched in dirty energy markets by pushing stable alternatives. One way not to move backward, as the old saying goes, is to light the way forward.
Policy-makers and environmental activists would do well to keep in mind workers who are displaced and adversely impacted by the monumental shifts in climate policy. The layoffs and forced transitions are a reality for folks on the ground who depend on these industries to support their families.
For example, the closing of Longannet plant in Scotland–rightly championed as a win against a dirty industry and a step for Scotland toward energy independence–should also be seen by activists as a move that directly put 230 workers out of work.
The ripple of this closure may take an additional thousand positions tied up in the coal market’s web. Anticipating the potential political blowback and working with government and industry to support laid off workers with vocational training and transitional income becomes doubly important.
The shutting down of Langerlo is not the panacea in pivotal action to move our world away from coal and other forms of dirty energy, but it does go to show what can happen when we build a political and technological culture ready to gear up to build the kind of planet and future our kids deserve.