Climate efforts undermined by EU’s coal addiction, new report reveals

Energy transition

CO2 emissions from coal power plants in the EU are undermining climate efforts, reveals the Europe’s Dirty 30 report, released today by CAN Europe, WWF, the European Environmental Bureau, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Climate Alliance Germany.

The “Europe’s Dirty 30” report exposes the top 30 CO2-polluting power plants in the EU, with Germany and the UK ranking joint first, with nine of the dirtiest coal plants each [1, 2]. If the EU is serious about meeting its climate targets and protecting the health of its citizens, it must act against its coal addiction.

The EU’s coal problem, the “Europe’s Dirty 30” report reveals, is caused by the increased use of existing coal assets. Many of the EU’s coal-fired plants are now running at or near full capacity, due to the relatively low price of coal compared to gas.

This has led to an increase in CO2 emissions from coal power plants in the EU, despite the rapid expansion of renewables and an overall decrease in total EU greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the report “Europe’s Dirty 30”, the heavy use of coal in some of the EU Member States with the highest populations, such as the UK and Germany, puts the EU in grave danger of not phasing out emissions from coal quickly enough, hence undermining the EU’s climate ambitions [3]. The rapid phase-out of CO2 emissions from coal has to become a priority.

Burning coal also releases pollutants that are associated with a range of human health problems including asthma and cancer [4]. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently identified air pollution as a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths. [5]


Kathrin Gutmann, Coal Policy Officer at CAN Europe, said:

“Coal-fired power plants are the single biggest global source of greenhouse gas emissions. CO2 emissions from coal in the EU are still far too high, as shown by the EU’s ‘Dirty 30 power plants’. The EU needs to tackle coal head on, if it wants to successfully meet its own long-term climate targets.”


Darek Urbaniak, Energy Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office, said:

“The existing EU policy framework on climate, energy and air pollution governing the power sector is not strong enough to achieve the transformation away from coal and towards renewable energy and energy savings.

What the EU needs to end its coal addiction are three ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gases, and boost energy efficiency and renewable energy. A structural reform of the ailing EU ETS as well as the introduction of an Emissions Performance Standard for CO2 emissions from the power sector are also key in order to prevent lock-in of the most-polluting power infrastructure.”


Christian Schaible, Senior Policy Officer – Industrial Production – at EEB, said:

“Europe’s coal addiction is bad for people’s health, bad for the environment and has no place in our sustainable energy future. Significant amounts of emissions could be prevented and reduced if operators would just use state of the art techniques available to them instead of arguing for exemptions. Environmental standards for power plants should first serve to protect the people and the environment in Europe and must be implemented swiftly to do so.”


Julia Huscher, Senior Coal and Health Officer at HEAL, said:

“Each of the largest coal-power stations in Europe is responsible for hundreds of millions of euros in health costs. The sheer amount of pollution they release, apart from the CO2 emissions, contributes to higher levels of particulate matter, which is a major health concern. In addition, only 30 power plants cause 20 percent of the health costs of the European power sector. The phase-out of coal in Europe will be a win-win, because it will help to achieve clean air for more people, and avoid further health damage from climate change.”


Mona Bricke, European Coordinator at Climate Alliance Germany, said:

“The next phase in Germany’s Energiewende must focus on how to transition away from coal. If Germany and the EU are serious about meeting their climate targets and transform their power sector, a German coal phase out is key. There is no way around that simple truth. The fact that 9 out of the 30 most CO2 emitting power plants are located in Germany, most of which burn lignite, is a case in point.”


Note to the Editors:

[1] Europe’s Dirty 30: How the EU’s coal-fired power plants are undermining its climate efforts 

Check the map of the EU’s top CO2-polluting thermal power plants here:

Check the infographics: Europe’s Dirty 30: How the EU’s coal-fired power plants are undermining its climate efforts:

[2] Germany and the UK, which are the self-declared climate champions of the EU, have nine coal-fired power plants each in the list of the top 30 CO2-polluting thermal power plants in the EU. Germany uses more coal to generate electricity than any other EU country, while the UK comes third in absolute coal consumption for power after Poland.

Check the map of the UK’s top CO2-polluting thermal power plants here:
Check the map of Germany’s top CO2-polluting thermal power plants here:

[3] According to climate scenarios by the IEA, the share of coal in electricity generation in the EU must be below 4% by 2035 will require a stark decrease compared to the 26% share of electricity generation from coal in 2011.

[4] Health and Environment Alliance, 2013. The Unpaid Health Bill – How Coal Power Plants Make Us Sick.


For further information:

Kathrin Gutmann
Coal Policy Officer
Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe
Phone: +32 2893 0839

Darek Urbaniak
Energy Policy Officer
WWF European Policy Office
Phone: +32 2 761 04 21
Mobile:+32 4 95 460 258

Julia Huscher
Senior coal and health officer
Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
Phone: +32 2 234 36 46
Mobile: +32 4 89 97 74 69

Christian Schaible
Senior Policy Officer – Industrial Production
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
Phone: +32 2 289 10 90

Mona Bricke
European Coordination
Climate Alliance Germany
Mobile: +49 176 10563917


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