Coal Phase Out

Burning coal is one of the main drivers of climate change because coal is one of the most greenhouse gas intensive fuels (see for example here).

Despite this over 40% of world electricity is still generated from coal (see Electricity production from coal). Globally, coal causes over 15 Giga tons of CO2 per year and accounts for about 40% of fossil CO2 emissions (see Global Carbon Budget here). In 2016, 16% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions came from burning coal (sources: Europe Beyond coal database + EEA UNFCCC GHG database).

Coal’s overall human and ecological toll is truly staggering. Mining and burning coal causes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, dust particles and mercury emissions and contaminates soil, air and water, see our reports Europe's Dark Cloud and Last Gasp. Around 80% of premature deaths associated with the emissions from coal-fired power plants in Europe were caused by exposure to PM2.5. Coal plants contribute substantially to the formation of PM2.5 via their emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrous oxides (NOx), which react with ammonia to form PM2.5 in the atmosphere; but also, less so, via direct emissions into the air. Coal power plants were responsible for 26% of all SO2 emissions and 8% of all NOx emissions across Europe in 2016.

The Last Gasp report found that just ten companies were responsible for an estimated two-thirds of the health impacts from coal power plants in 2016. These ten companies were responsible for 7,600 premature deaths, 3,320 new cases of chronic bronchitis and 137,000 asthma symptom days in children, according to modelling, based on 2016 data. The ill health they caused contributed to an estimated 5,820 hospital admissions and over 2 million lost working days.

But the good news is: We do not need coal.

We have affordable renewable energy. We can save energy. We can use energy more wisely (e.g. by demand-side management). And we are already building modern, flexible, decentralized, community-based, environmentally-friendly energy systems that can serve our energy needs on site.

Phasing out coal is the low-hanging fruit when it comes to scaling up emission reductions in Europe in line with the Paris Agreement. We therefore need to make this a priority in every European country.

But the speed at which coal plants are closed down is not at all sufficient. The rate at which coal emissions must fall every year needs to triple to 8% in order to be in line with keeping global average temperature rise below 2 degrees (see Report: End of an era). The historical rate actually puts us on track for a 2030 coal phase-out (see chart). Problem is, this trend is expected to slow down as new plants were built that are still expected to operate in 2030. With the agreement in Paris to pursue efforts to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees this needs to be scaled up even more.

The rush of building new coal-fired power plants in the EU is over (with some notable exceptions such as Poland), but there still is a significant amount of new coal projects in South East Europe and Turkey. If we are to comply with what was agreed in Paris we cannot afford to see any of these proposed coal plants built. South East European countries and Turkey need to turn their back on new coal projects now and start exploring the alternatives.

The CAN Europe Secretariat works with its members and fellow NGO networks:

  • to prevent the construction of new coal power plants, opening of new mines and building of coal transport infrastructure,
  • to campaign for a complete and rapid phase-out of coal in Europe and policy instruments and targets to achieve that,
  • to advocate for an end to any form of public or private funding of coal originating in Europe and for an immediate phase-out of direct and indirect subsidies to coal,
  • to support local communities to get out of coal and build instead decentralized, community-based renewable energy systems, to secure a just transition for people residing in coal mining dependent regions.

CAN Europe strongly supports the phase out of coal by both hosting the ‘Europe Beyond Coal’ campaign secretariat and by integrating the coal debate in our regular policy work as well as by supporting our members and allies in Turkey and the Western Balkans through the CAN Europe’s coal team. 

Learn more


Just Transition or Just Talk? 

New report by Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe and Sandbag  reveals Member States are receiving EU energy transition support but  not committing to phase-out coal.

The draft National Energy and  Climate Plans (NECPs) of 21 EU Member States which still use coal for electricity generation show that only eight are committed to phasing out coal by 2030.


Last Gasp: The Coal Companies Making Europe Sick

European coal companies including RWE, EPH, and PGE, continue to push the cost of dirty energy onto society, with air pollution from their coal plants burdening people across Europe with both health problems and billions in costs, according to modelling detailed in a new report.

The report tallies up the hidden cost of the coal these companies burn, using state-of-the-art emission and weather data modelling to make each one’s responsibility clear. According to this, just ten companies were responsible for two-thirds of the health impacts of electricity production from coal in 2016.


Europe’s dark cloud: How coal-burning countries make their neighbours sick

This report by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, the WWF European Policy Office and Sandbag presents an analysis of cross-border health impacts of all EU coal power plants. Coal pollution and its health impacts travel far beyond borders, and a full coal phase-out in the EU would bring enormous benefits for all citizens across the continent.

The report, ‘Europe’s dark cloud: How coal-burning countries make their neighbours sick’, analyses the health impacts from air pollution of all EU coal-fired power stations for which data is available. It reveals that in 2013 their emissions were responsible for over 22,900 premature deaths, tens of thousands of cases of ill-health from heart disease to bronchitis, and up to EUR 62.3 billion in health costs.



Joanna Flisowska
Coal Policy Coordinator
joanna / at /
Based in Katowice, Poland

 igor kalaba 

Igor Kalaba
Energy Policy Coordinator for Southeast Europe
igor /at/

+32 4714 38 442


Elif Gündüzyeli
Turkey Climate and Energy Policy Coordinator
elif /at/
Based in Istanbul, Turkey

Latest Publications on Coal Phase Out

  • EU must block Greece’s desperate attempt to subsidise coal power

    Greek consumers could end up footing the bill for new coal plants well beyond 2050 under a proposed government scheme, despite recently agreed EU electricity market rules specifically designed to call time on coal subsidies, write Joanna Flisowska and Nikos Mantzaris.
See All: Coal Phase Out