Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Exit strategy: farewell to coal

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Energy
Eggborough Power Station, Yorkshire, one of the UK’s few remaining active coal power stations Eggborough Power Station, Yorkshire, one of the UK’s few remaining active coal power stations Neil Mitchell
29 Apr
Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This month, Marco Magrini looks at the UK’s climate commitments

Bring the glasses, let’s celebrate. For the first time in history, the UK’s coal share in electricity production has slid below ten per cent. The worst and dirtiest fossil fuel on Earth – a backbone of British industry since the nineteenth century – halved in usage last year thanks to cheaper gas, renewable energy and higher carbon prices in the European allowances market. Furthermore, last week saw the UK sustain a full day without the burning of a single nugget of coal for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

According to Carbon Brief, in 2016 the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were 42 per cent below the 1990 level, the baseline year in climate diplomacy. It is a staggering result, although it’s worth remembering that the 42 per cent cut in emissions is just a milestone towards the goal of 80 per cent by 2050. That noble target wasn’t set by European bureaucrats. It is enshrined in British law with the 2008 Climate Change Act. Nonetheless, the world would be a safer place had all other nations performed the same way... and if Brexit weren’t on a possible collision course with climate change policies.

We are not talking about Al Gore’s recent depiction of a climate change-induced Brexit, which sounded a bit far-fetched. Instead, this climate-Brexit link is more of an admonition against unintended consequences in the future. Brexit has already got its own tinge of scariness.

Theresa May’s cabinet is widely considered to be the least climate-wise UK government since 1992, when anthropocentric global warming was officially labeled by the UN as a planetary risk. The ministerial rebranding of the Department for Energy and Climate Change into the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy speaks loud enough in this regard.

Now, with the formal separation from the EU underway, no one can tell if the UK will stick to its climatic oath once taken out from under the European flag. This is all but irrelevant, as a British walkout from the European Carbon Trading Scheme – a market-based mechanism to encourage investments in cleaner energy sources – would likely provoke its demise along with triggering a price collapse in its traded allowances. Ian Duncan Smith, the Conservatives’ European Spokesman on Energy and Climate Change, said there is a ‘serious risk’ Brexit could bring a halt to the very scheme that made Britain save a lot of carbon emissions in the last decade. Maybe we can’t raise a toast just yet.

This was published in the May 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...


Seismometers buried in the Ross Ice Shelf have revealed that…


A tightening of restrictions on the insecticides known as neonicotinoids…


Bonnethead sharks, the second smallest member of the hammerhead family,…


There’s more than enough plastic in the world. That’s why,…


The recent discovery of more than 200 million termite mounds…


The new year still remains a popular time to set…


After decades battling environmental crises that threaten to rob the…


As another new year beckons and the fight to protect…


A half century has passed since the ‘Earthrise’ photograph – widely believed to have…


Are howler monkeys being adversely affected by ingestion of pesticides containing…


Why unprepared tourists are putting themselves at risk in order…


The majestic and mighty polar bear is in danger of…


Exciting news for wildlife and photography enthusiasts alike – the…


A new system of robotic aerial vehicles is revolutionising the…


Technology used in creating safe urban environments is now being…


Brazil’s shift to the right of the political spectrum could…


Laura Cole travels to Orkney to find out why numbers…


The unprecedented frequency of winter tick epidemics have resulted in…


Ocean debris, mostly composed of plastic, reaches remote Atlantic islands…


With motion detectors becoming ever more sophisticated, and clearer, crisper…