More than 40 countries have joined a pledge to phase out coal in the 2030s and 2040s, improving the possibility of keeping the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C target alive.
Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and phasing out ‘unabated’ coal (coal without carbon capture or similar mitigations) is essential for ending climate change. However, it is also very useful because it can be stored, transported and used whenever needed. This dependability makes it more difficult to phase out.
A low-carbon, renewable alternative to coal is sustainably sourced bioenergy. Similar to coal, biomass feedstocks can also be stored, transported and used whenever needed. However, they do not introduce new carbon into the biosphere like coal does. Old coal stations have even been converted to run on sustainably sourced biomass, which saves jobs and keeps down the cost of new infrastructure such as transmission lines.
This makes bioenergy a useful way to remove coal from the world’s energy systems without undermining energy security. Bioenergy makes an excellent back-up to other renewables, such as wind and solar, because it can smooth the gaps in supply on less windy or sunny days.
The countries at COP26 include some of the world’s largest coal users. Richer countries on the list agreed to phase out unabated coal by the end of the 2030s, while developing economies pledged to do so in the 2040s. Other nations, such as the UK and Canada, have already committed to ending unabated coal before the mid-2020s.
Christian Rakos, President of the World Bioenergy Association, welcomed the COP26 coal pledge, saying:
“Coal was a key fossil fuel for the world’s economic development, but it has created the climate crisis. Countries must move away from coal-fired energy.
“It may seem like a very difficult task to achieve while also maintaining economic growth and energy security, but there are many technologies that can help smooth the way. Sustainable bioenergy is a very helpful tool in this challenge, alongside other renewables such as wind and solar energy.”