Over the summer of 2020, as coronavirus cases fell and life in Britain felt briefly normal, something very abnormal was happening to the country’s electricity supply. No coal was burned to generate any portion of it for a period of more than two months, something that had not happened since 1882. Britain’s four remaining coal-burning power plants are zombies, all but dead. Within a couple of years they will be closed and Britain will probably never burn coal for electricity again.
The elimination of power stations that burn coal has helped Britain cut its carbon emissions faster than any other rich country since 1990 (see charts). They are down by 44%, according to data collected by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (beis) during a period when the economy grew by two-thirds. Germany’s emissions, in contrast, are down by 29%; coal is still burned to generate some 24% of its electricity. Britain has made cuts to its emissions 1.8 times larger than the EU average since 1990. In America, emissions over the same period are up slightly.