Sixth Carbon Budget enters law as coal deadline tightened

The Sixth Carbon Budget, placing a 965 million tonne cap on greenhouse gas emissions over 2033-27 has cleared parliament, while the government has moved the coal shutdown date forward a year.

Ratcliffe-on-Soar is one of only three coal-burning power stations left in the UK, alongside Kilroot and West Burton A. Photograph: MaltaGC / Wikimedia Commons Ratcliffe-on-Soar is one of only three coal-burning power stations left in the UK, alongside Kilroot and West Burton A. Photograph: MaltaGC / Wikimedia Commons

The budget is equivalent to cutting the UK’s ongoing contribution to climate change by 78% by 2035, relative to 1990. A cut of at least 68% is planned for 2030 through a submission made under the Paris Agreement, a goal that has rendered the 2026-32 Fifth Carbon Budget obsolete.

The prime minister accepted the advice of the Climate Change Committee to adopt the two goals late last year.

READ MORE: Sixth carbon budget signals acceleration to net zero

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READ MORE: Coal phase-out group is ‘a smokescreen’, says NGO

A consultation on bringing forward the end of coal power from October 2025 to October 2024 followed shortly afterwards, as part of a package accompanying the Energy White Paper. The later date was first proposed in 2016.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed today that it was going ahead with the plan, describing it as a “key step in the UK government’s plans to decarbonise the power sector and eliminate the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050”. Implementing legislation will be put before parliament at the earliest opportunity.

Technically, the plan covers only coal used without carbon capture and storage, though plans to combine the two in the UK are long abandoned.

It will mean that Great Britain will move from coal delivering a third of its power to none at all within ten years. It was responsible for generating just 1.8% of electricity last year, down from 5.1% in 2018, according to departmental figures. A decade ago, coal-fired power stations produced almost two fifths of the UK’s electricity mix, whereas more than that is now produced from renewables.

"With COP26 coming up soon, the announcement highlights the UK's intention on being a leader in green energy. However, coal usage has greatly decreased already and there have been substantial periods where the UK has not had any coal fired power. The focus should now shift from expected announcements to finalising the net zero roadmap and providing a regulatory system for businesses to work with," said Ben Stansfield, environment partner at lawyers Gowling WLG.

The announcement came ahead of energy and climate change minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan speaking at a Powering Past Coal Alliance’s roundtable on the importance of countries phasing out coal across Europe. Earlier this month, the Polish government said it intended to close the giant Bełchatów coal plant by 2036, following the abandonment of a plan to open a new lignite mine. The largest thermal power station in the continent, it has a nominal capacity of more than five gigawatts.

“Coal powered the industrial revolution 200 years ago, but now is the time for radical action to completely eliminate this dirty fuel from our energy system. Today we’re sending a clear signal around the world that the UK is leading the way in consigning coal power to the history books and that we’re serious about decarbonising our power system so we can meet our ambitious, world-leading climate targets. The UK’s net zero future will be powered by renewables, and it is this technology that will drive the green industrial revolution and create new jobs across the country,” said Trevelyan.

“Ahead of COP26, I hope the UK’s decisive step towards a cleaner, greener future sends a clear signal to friends around the world that clean power is the way forward. The impact of this step will be far greater if we can bring the world with us, and so our desire to support a clean and just energy transition is central to my discussions on the road to COP26,” said COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma.

In May, climate and environment ministers from the G7 agreed to end all new finance for coal power by the end of this year, pledging to adopt an overwhelmingly decarbonised grid in the 2030s.

The government says that it has already ended its support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas, though this excludes a plan to support a £750m gas export terminal in Mozambique, accused of stoking an ISIS-affiliated insurgency.

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