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Russia’s war is a short-term victory for coal – POLITICO


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There is at least one winner in Vladimir Putin’s bloody war against Ukraine: coal.

In response to the attack, the EU is trying to diversify away from Russian energy imports. The first target fuel is coal; member countries agreed on Friday to end purchases of Russian coal by August. The EU imported 49 million tonnes of Russian coal in 2020, and the trade is worth around 8 billion euros per year.

This leaves the bloc relying on its own coal resources to offset Russian imports. Countries are also extending the life of coal-fired power plants as fears grow of a cut in Russian natural gas shipments.

All of this provides an unexpected boost for a fuel that was heading for the exit thanks to growing concern over climate change.

“In the short term, we will need a mixture of both brown and green solutions,” said Simone Tagliapietra, researcher at Bruegel, a Brussels think tank. “If we reopen the coal-fired plants, even for just one, two years, I think that overall it will not be a big problem, if in the meantime we develop green solutions.

There are examples throughout the block.

Greece’s government said on Wednesday it would boost coal mining and extend the operation of its coal-fired power plants until 2028, abandoning previous plans to close such plants by next year. Greece generates around 10% of its electricity from lignite, the dirtiest form of coal.

None of this is meant to upset the country’s commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

“It’s a temporary measure,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

This is the same argument that is used across the continent.

“It might be necessary to reopen coal-fired power plants to cover possible shortages in the immediate future,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said immediately after the Russian invasion. Italy gets around 45% of its natural gas from Russia and is scrambling to find new supplies, with Draghi heading to Algeria on Monday.

happy polluter

The change in tone is most noticeable in Poland, which generates around 70% of its electricity from coal. The official plan is to end the use of coal by 2049, just one year before the whole of the EU becomes climate neutral.

Now even that distant target is in question.

“We want coal power to work in Poland with a much longer perspective than until 2049,” Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin said last week.

The government is reviewing the country’s energy strategy – aimed at boosting renewable energy, but it also includes the caveat: “The use of national coal deposits may be periodically increased in the event of a threat to energy security. of State”.

Germany is more confrontational. The coalition has agreed to “ideally” end coal-fired power by 2030, which the government says will still happen.

But the energy emergency prompted the Minister of Climate and the Economy, Robert Habeck, to announce a reserve of coal to secure supply. The government is also delaying the permanent closure of some coal-fired power plants, keeping them on standby longer to reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian gas imports. Coal produces around a quarter of the country’s electricity.

“The dismantling of coal-fired power plants can be suspended until further notice,” the government said in late March.

In the Czech Republic, the idea was to end coal mining by 2033, but the government now says that, given the situation, it must “consider all the advantages and disadvantages” of a such decision.

Two of the country’s coal-fired power plants were due to switch to gas next year, but that timetable is currently under discussion, said Martin Hájek, director of the Czech Association for District Heating. Coal generates 46% of the country’s electricity.

Prague has also decided to delay the ban on old coal-fired boilers for two years.

Romania will temporarily restart inactive coal-fired power plants, said Environment Minister Barna Tánczos.

The coal message from Brussels is also muted.

Countries planning to burn coal as an alternative to Russian gas could do so in line with EU climate goals, Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans said last month. “There are no taboos in this situation.”

The shift is understandable in light of the rush to move away from Russian energy, Tagliapietra said, but he cautioned it should not undermine the bloc’s longer-term climate goals.

“We need to make sure that – if these short-term energy security solutions are needed – at least we have, at the same time, increased investment in green energy,” he said.

For the coal crowd celebrating the fuel renaissance, there are warnings that any recovery will be short-lived.

“Clean energy by 2035 is a climate imperative for the EU. That means any growth in coal production must be temporary,” said Harriet Fox, an analyst at Ember, a green think tank. “Cutting Russian gas in the next few years and a Paris-compliant coal phase-out are not mutually exclusive. Now is the time for a massive effort on renewable energy to create a cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy mix as quickly as possible.

Zia Weise contributed reporting.

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