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Finland plans on being the first country in the world to phase out coal for good

A total ban by 2030.

PETER DOCKRILL
25 NOV 2016
 

Finland has announced a plan to phase out all coal burning by 2030, which would make it the first nation to cut ties with one of the most deeply entrenched and polluting of fossil fuels.

The strategy, which is part of the country's goal to have totally carbon-neutral energy production by 2050, is the most ambitious plan yet to end reliance on coal, and could be a big step towards meeting the demands of the international carbon emission goals set in Paris last year.

 

While other nations have similar goals to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 –the UK and Canada have announced their own plans to phase out coal in the next 10 and 15 years respectively – not all of the plans are equal when it comes to banning the fossil fuel.

The British and Canadian plans enable coal plants to keep operating as long as they're equipped with carbon capture and storage – an approach that comes with considerably "more degrees of freedom", energy policy researcher Peter Lund from Finland's Aalto University told Sally Adee at New Scientist.

By contrast, the Finnish strategy would result in an all-out ban on coal for energy production – an unprecedented step for a developed nation.

"Basically, coal would disappear from the Finnish market," Lund says.

"Utilising the potential of Finnish renewable energy to produce electricity at an industrial level is one of the central questions in achieving long-term energy and climate goals," said Finland's Economic Affairs Minister, Oli Rehn.

In addition to phasing out coal by 2030, Finland also intends to reduce the importation of fuels – including petroleum, diesel, fuel oil, and others – bringing imports to half 2005 levels during the 2020s.

 

To help achieve this, the country intends to significantly boost electric cars (to 250,000 vehicles on the roads by 2030) and vehicles running on biogas (to 50,000).

But it's the plans to ban coal that are attracting the most attention – much to the dismay of the Finnish coal industry, which argues that the ban will jeopardise the country's energy sector.

But Rhen is resolute.

"Finland is well positioned to be among the first countries in the world to enact a law to ban coal," he told Reuters earlier in the month. "Giving up coal is the only way to reach international climate goals."

One of the reasons Finland can do this is that coal – which the country has to import to use – only accounts for a small chunk (8 percent) of its electricity production.

The nation's primary source of energy is nuclear power (accounting for 33 percent of electricity production in 2012), followed by hydro power (25 percent).

The nation will continue to burn peat – a fossil fuel that it can produce domestically (and, therefore, more economically), and which outnumbers coal production by about three times.

In 2014, 4 percent of Finnish energy consumption resulted from burning peat, while coal accounted for 9 percent.

But renewable energy is also on the rise in Finland, accounting for 40 percent of all energy consumption last year – and with the new measures in place, that's set to rise to 47 percent by 2030.

Finland's government is currently led by the Centre Party, and if it can get sufficient support in the Finnish parliament to back its coal strategy, the plan – alongside the announcements from the UK, Canada, and others – could end up setting an important precedent for the rest of the world.

"These moves are important forerunners to enforce the recent positive signals in coal use," says Lund.

"The more countries join the coal phase-out club, the better for the climate, as this would force the others to follow."

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