The EU 28 is still heavily reliant on coal. In 2013, the share of electricity from hard coal and lignite was at 26% (Source: EEA), produced in the region’s 280 operational coal power stations.
Coal is a climate problem!
Coal is one of the main contributors to the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. In 2014, 18% of the total GHG emissions in the EU originated from burning coal. In some countries, this share is considerably higher, such as in Bulgaria (44%) or Poland (33%). In some countries, this share is only due to a very small number of coal plants, e.g. in Portugal, where the only two operational coal plants of the country are responsible for 16% of Portuguese GHG emissions.
Coal is a health problem!
The majority of the coal plants is more than 30 years old. Outdated technology is making Europe’s coal fleet not only inefficient but also heavily polluting. Every year, 23,000 people die prematurely due to the sickening pollutants that are released into the air when burning coal, see pdf Europe's Dark Cloud: Coal-burning EU countries make their neighbours sick (2.78 MB) . The ever so “cheap” form of energy has its price when taking into account the billions of euros that are spent to alleviate the effects of coal burning. In 2013, they totaled to over 60 billion euros, see EEA.
The current suite of EU climate & energy policy instruments that sets targets and sends divestment and investment signals to the energy market is clearly not working as well as it should. Apart from an overdue revision of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme, we need national governments and utilities to step in to lead the phase out of coal in Europe. Every country in the EU needs a coal phase-out plan, see End of an Era report.
Utilities and governments are currently deciding whether or not to re-invest in their existing coal power plants or to schedule them for closure. This kind of investment decision-making is imminent especially in response to the new EU's Industrial Emissions Directive which entered into force in January 2016. The Directive sets new emission limits for many harmful industrial pollutants. The limits are supposed to be regularly reviewed and tightened with the new BATs (best available techniques) conclusions. However the process of adoption of new BATs has been severely delayed. The EU urgently needs to set stringent enough pollution limits that prevent the lifetime extension of coal.