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However, a new report by Imperial College's Energy Policy and Technology Unit found that with current policies, nearly half of the UK's existing 40-50 year old coal-fired generating capacity could still be operating in 2030. This directly contradicts current government assumptions that existing coal will close as a result of age and/or because of local air pollution legislation by the mid-2020s. [2]

The report's lead author Dr Rob Gross said:

Imperial College's economic modelling shows that it is unwise to simply assume that coal-fired power stations will all close in the 2020s. If government wants old coal stations to close it needs to ensure that happens through legislation."

"We modelled a variety of scenarios and, with the UK's existing suite of energy policies, in every instance coal still played a role in generating electricity and 2030 emissions targets were missed"

"Our modelling shows that firm commitment to carbon pricing is very important to 2030 targets but investors would have much more confidence if the government also took a regulated approach, for example by extending the emissions performance standard to existing coal fired stations."

Jenny Banks, WWF's Energy and Climate Change Specialist said:"Burning coal is by far the dirtiest way to generate electricity. Running one big coal-fired power station full time in 2030 would use over half of our carbon target for the power sector but generate just 3% of our electricity needs."

"We're pleased that the Government has recognised that it's time to close old coal plants but actions speak louder than words. The current plans for bill-payers to help fund inefficient old coal plants from the 1960s and 70s to let them stagger on through the 2020s are hardly sending the right signals."

"WWF is calling on all political parties to introduce firm policies to ensure that all coal-fired power stations without carbon capture and storage close by 2025."

Lord Adair Turner welcomed the report saying:
"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest report update on climate change science makes it unequivocal that we must reduce carbon emissions dramatically to avoid major harm to human welfare. And we cannot achieve the required cuts unless we eliminate unabated coal from the electricity generating system."

"The Climate Change Committee recommended that coal generation should only be allowed in the UK in 2030 if fitted with carbon capture and storage. This would enable us to get emissions from electricity down to 50g per kWh. As this report makes clear, present policies could leave us in 2030 with so much unabated coal that electricity emissions could be 130 - 240 g per kwh, blowing a hole in plans to create a low carbon economy.

"Analysis by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and others has shown repeatedly that we can build a low carbon economy at low cost provided we plan well in advance and provide strong incentives to which business can respond. A clear commitment to get unabated coal out of the UK generation system is needed to provide certainty against which businesses can invest."

The report also argues that recent policy decisions which appear to encourage the life extension of existing coal plant through the 2020s [3] may be deterring investment in the new, lower carbon and more efficient replacement capacity needed to ensure long term security of supply. In the report's highest carbon scenario, coal-powered stations alone would emit over double the UK carbon targets in 2030 but meet less than one sixth of our electricity needs. [4]

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Editor's Notes

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/24/uk-coal-power-plants-david-cameron-un-climate-pledge

[2] The most recent Government forecasts suggest that all existing coal fired power stations will close by the mid-2020s see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/358135/Updated_energy_and_emissions_projections_2014.pdf

[3] Over the past year the Government has exempted coal plants from emissions standards that new plants will have to meet, frozen a tax on carbon pollution to help the UK's biggest emitters and created a new scheme which will pay our biggest polluting power stations to stay open.

[4] Imperial College's report modelled six scenarios which each made different assumptions about future carbon prices, coal and gas prices, capacity market clearing price and the cost of compliance with the Industrial Emissions Directive. The scenario in which electricity fromcoal is highest in 2030 assumed that the carbon price is the EU Emissions Trading Scheme price in 2030 and that there is no carbon price support.

About WWF

WWF is one of the world's largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issuesfacing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about our work, past and present at wwf.org.uk.

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