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Melinda Simmons

British Ambassador to Ukraine

Part of UK in Ukraine

11th March 2021 Ukraine

Now is the time to speed up the move away from coal

coal power plant

Unabated coal burning does serious damage.  As the dirtiest, most polluting way of producing energy, it’s cheap and plentiful, but it comes at a different sort of cost.  Coalmines and coal-processing plants have caused heavy environmental damage: surface mining destroys natural habitats; burning coal releases large quantities of toxins into the air, increasing air pollution and causing significant damage to health.  

Accounting for 45% of global CO2 emissions, coal is also a top contributor to climate change.  And with climate change already causing devastating impacts across the globe, it is vital that the world works together to reduce its harmful impacts on people and the environment. 

Moving away from polluting fossil fuels towards cleaner and more sustainable energy solutions is a key part of this puzzle.  But let’s be clear – this shift is not simple. Accounting for around 38% of electricity generation worldwide (International Energy Agency, 2019), the global scale of the challenge in phasing out coal is huge.  Phase-outs take time and present a myriad of challenges and considerations. 

That is why the UK is playing its part. In the lead up to COP26 – the UN’s Climate Change Conference which the UK will host in November –  we are putting a focus on the move away from coal: bringing together countries, development banks, investors, industry and civil society to ensure that every country can access the investment and assistance to more rapidly scale up renewable energy and globally phase out the use of coal.

Ukraine has already faced the challenge when it closed a number of coalmines in the 1990s.  Today both the Government and the private sector see the need to accelerate the process.  Understandably, there are public concerns and reservations over the benefits and how to go about it.

But it is clear that Ukraine can overcome the challenges of transition to more sustainable energy sources, and there are many important lessons from the UK’s move away from coal, which we are freely sharing with Ukraine. 

First and foremost is the need to ensure a ‘Just Transition’. In Ukraine, many thousands of livelihoods and communities depend on the coal mining industry – the impact of transition on them could be devastating if not handled correctly. A ‘Just Transition’  looks after coal miners and their families, ensuring they are not left behind, by bringing new forms of industry and investment to coal mining areas and offering appropriate re-skilling and new jobs.  The UK has been through this complex and sensitive process but there are now areas of England and Wales where you would never know there was once a coalmine there. 

Solar power plant

Another such lesson is that, if carefully planned, moving away from coal to renewables benefits jobs and growth in the long run, as well as the environment. Solar and wind are already cheaper than coal power in two thirds of the world and are predicted to undercut commissioned coal and gas almost everywhere by 2030. Soon it will be cheaper in all countries to install new renewable capacity than to continue to run existing coal plants. According to the International Renewable Agency, boosting investment in renewables will increase jobs in the sector to 42 million globally by 2050, four times more than today.  It is vital that Ukraine moves to take advantage of these opportunities to develop a more sustainable economy, and ensure that its coal workers can benefit from a just transition. 

The scale of the climate crisis requires bold action.  But only with bold action can we guarantee the future of our planet and fellow humans.  By ending the use of polluting coal energy and speeding up the move to renewables, we can greatly reduce emissions whilst contributing to a greener and more resilient economic recovery.  With the support of the international community, Ukraine should have the confidence and political will to forge ahead with a successful, fair and just transition from coal. We do not have time to waste.

About Melinda Simmons

Ms Melinda Simmons was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Ukraine in September 2019.