Monday, October 29, 2018

Climate Change: Spain ends coal

If we are to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change - meaning war, famine and death - humanity needs to end fossil fuel use by 2050. And Spain has just taken the first step, shutting down its coal industry:

Spain is to shut down most of its coalmines by the end of the year after government and unions struck a deal that will mean €250m (£221m) will be invested in mining regions over the next decade.

Pedro S├ínchez’s new leftwing administration has moved quickly on environmental policy, abolishing a controversial “sunshine tax” on the solar industry, and announcing the launch of Spain’s long-delayed national climate plan next month.

Unions hailed the mining deal – which covers Spain’s privately owned pits – as a model agreement. It mixes early retirement schemes for miners over 48, with environmental restoration work in pit communities and re-skilling schemes for cutting-edge green industries.

Most of the mines being shut down were uneconomic, so this is simply doing what the market would have done anyway, while saving billions of Euro in subsidies. They've made a huge shift to renewable energy in the past decade, and practically eliminated coal from the electricity system, so its not going to cause problems for their electricity sector. But it will remove a dangerous source of pollution.

So, the obvious question is when are we going to follow Spain's lead? Most of the coal we mine is exported, and there seems to be little need to allow that to continue. Meanwhile, our major coal users have announced plans to exit the market: Huntly will close in 2022, and Fonterra is switching to electricity in the South Island. Announcing a phased shutdown will help drive that process, while pushing those industries still dependent on coal to look for alternatives. So, when will the government do it? Or is their talk of climate change being "my generation's nuclear-free moment" just hot air?