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Coal comeback could further drive UK energy emissions

Extra coal-burning may lead to problems in meeting binding international carbon targets

Britain’s drive to meet its emissions targets is being challenged by a comeback for coal power stations in the country– that threatens to drive up the UK energy sector’s carbon emissions for the first time in six years.

Coal plants have become more economical to run their gas counterparts in the past months because wholesale gas prices have hit 10-year highs. An Imperial College London report state that extra coal-burning had increased emissions by 15% in September, which was equivalent to an extra 1,000 tones of carbon dioxide per hour.

If the trend continues in the coming months, the sector’s emissions would rise by as much as 1.2 mn tones this year, according to researchers at the university.

The energy sector overall is the UK’s second biggest emitter after transport, and it has been the economy’s standout success for cutting emissions in recent years because of the rapid growth in renewable and the phaseout of coal.

Even a reversal of that success, could pose a dilemma for ministers, who have to meet legally-binding carbon targets. The UK’s carbon budget, set by the Committee on Climate Change in order to meet the long-term goal of an 80% cut in emissions by 2050, will dictate how much the country can overall emit over five-year periods.

While the UK is due to easily meet its third carbon budget, which runs from 2018-2021, any prolonged rise in energy emissions would make future budgets harder to hit. Dr Iain Staffell, the author of the Imperial College London report, stated: “If the only thing that has done well starts to backslide, I think that’s going to be a real problem in meeting these [carbon] targets because they’re just ratcheting up and getting more and more difficult.”

Coal-burning is likely to increase this year, and so are gas prices – according to Analysts.

 “I think there’s a pretty good worry that we’re looking at up to six months of coal being the cheapest source,” Staffell stated.

Consumers are unlikely to benefit from coal being cheaper but coal operators would see their profits boosted this year, he further added.

-GBO Correspondent.

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