Government moves to make UK first major country to end use of coal
All polluting coal-fired power stations will be closed by 2025, the Government has announced in a move which makes the UK the first major country to end use of the fossil fuel.
The announcement, in the run-up to crucial UN climate talks due to take place in Paris in less than two weeks, has been welcomed in many quarters, with former US vice president Al Gore describing it as an "excellent and inspiring precedent".
But while environmentalists have backed the historic move to phase out coal, the power source responsible for most carbon emissions, concerns have been raised that the Government plans to switch to gas rather than cleaner technology.
Under the plans, all coal power plants which do not have technology to capture their carbon emissions will be shut by 2025, with their use restricted by 2023, a move which meets a previous pledge by Prime Minister David Cameron to phase out coal.
The Government is insisting it will be "imperative" to build new gas-fired power stations in the next 10 years as it turns the emphasis on to new gas and nuclear power plants to cut emissions and ensure energy security.
It comes after a series of announcements cutting support for renewables, which ministers claimed were necessary to prevent rising costs to consumers who pay for subsidies on their energy bills.
But it is likely that mechanisms will have to be found to support the building of new gas-fired plants as the Government puts energy security first in the face of concerns over keeping the lights on as the UK's energy infrastructure ages.
Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said: "We are tackling a legacy of under-investment and ageing power stations which we need to replace with alternatives that are reliable, good value for money, and help to reduce our emissions.
"It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations.
"Let me be clear: this is not the future.
"Our determination to cut carbon emissions as cost effectively as possible is crystal clear and this step will make us one of the first developed countries to commit to taking coal off our system."
Mr Gore, a leading climate campaigner who previously said he was "confused" by the Government's cuts to clean technology support, welcomed the announcement ahead of the talks in Paris which aim to secure a new deal on tackling climate change.
"With this announcement, the UK is demonstrating the type of leadership that nations around the world must take in order to craft a successful agreement in Paris and solve the climate crisis.
"The UK has become the first major economy to set a clear date to phase out coal, and I am hopeful that others will follow suit as we repower the global economy with the clean energy we need for a sustainable future," he said.
But Green MP Caroline Lucas said: " This switch from coal to gas is like trying to go dry by switching from vodka to super-strength cider - it entirely fails to seriously address the real challenge at hand.
"In the run-up to the crucial Paris climate talks in December ministers are showing their true colours. Support for nuclear and gas is growing, while help for renewable energy firms, and the thousands of jobs they create, is being slashed.
"Investing in renewables and energy conservation would be far more effective economically, environmentally and in terms of energy security. We must begin weaning ourselves off gas as quickly as possible."
In her speech, Ms Rudd also set out the Government's backing for a fleet of new nuclear reactors, saying legacy of underinvestment in the sector is changing with plans for the new plant at Hinkley Point to be generating power by the mid-2020s.
And she said the Government will make funding available for three rounds of subsidy auctions for offshore wind power, if conditions on reducing costs of the technology are met.
The Government expects to see 10 gigawatts of offshore wind installed by 2020 and if the industry, which says it can deliver on that, fails to meet the goal, there will be no subsidies for it, she said, warning there would be "no more blank cheques".
Ms Rudd confirmed the Government's commitment to taking action on climate change, meeting long-term legally-binding goals to slash emissions that contribute to pushing global temperatures.
She said the Paris talks need to deliver action by businesses, civil society, cities, regions and countries, and unleash the levels of private investment required.
"Our most important task is providing a compelling example to the rest of the world of how to cut carbon while controlling costs."
The Government has faced criticism that its changes to subsidies have created uncertainty for investors, which could affect not only onshore wind and solar - which have been subject to the cuts - but also for other technologies such nuclear and shale.
Shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy said: "It's been clear for years that Britain's coal stations are so old and so polluting they would need to close over the next decade.
"Now we need to build new, cleaner power stations to take their place, yet this Government's chopping and changing of energy policy is putting off the investment we urgently need to secure our power supplies."
The Government will publish a consultation in the spring on proposals to close coal by 2025 and restrict its use from 2023.