The Biden administration pledged on Saturday to phase out coal power plants alongside dozens of other countries, a change that would go a long way toward curbing global warming.
US Special Envoy John Kerry announced that the United States would join 56 other nations in the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a group launched by the UK and Canadian governments in 2017 to transition away from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. The alliance has committed to stop building new power plants and to phase out existing ones.
“We will be working to accelerate unabated coal phase-out across the world, building stronger economies and more resilient communities,” Kerry said in a statement. The United States was one of seven countries to join the alliance this weekend as the United Nations hosted the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai.
We will work with partners around the world to phase out unabated coal, an absolutely essential step for keeping 1.5 C within reach. pic.twitter.com/ZnIgLr7hvY
— Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry (@ClimateEnvoy) December 2, 2023
A timeline was not given for phasing out existing plants, but other regulations in the United States and international commitments will require them to be gone by 2035. “We were heading to retiring coal by the end of the decade anyway,” climate analyst Alden Meyer of the European think tank E3G told the Associated Press, noting that no new facilities are being constructed in the United States because natural gas and renewable energy are both cleaner and more cost effective. About 20 percent of US electricity now comes from coal, and the country is burning less than half of what it was in 2008.
The Biden administration has been encouraging other countries to follow suit and stop building new coal plants, especially China and India. The decision to join the anti-coal alliance “sends a pretty powerful international signal that the US is putting its money where its mouth is,” Meyer added. Coal emits significantly more heat-trapping carbon dioxide than other fuels such as natural gas and gasoline.
Also on Saturday, as my colleague Ari Berman reported, the Biden administration announced a new plan to reduce methane emissions, another major cause of global warming. For the first time, the US government will require oil and gas producers to detect and fix leaks of methane, a change that Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, described as “the most impactful climate rule that the United States has ever adopted in terms of addressing temperatures we would otherwise see.” The Environmental Protection Agency estimated the policy would prevent 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038—which is pretty close to the amount of carbon dioxide that’s emitted each year by all power plants in the United States.