France is joining the list of countries that are ditching coal power. Speaking at the United Nations COPP22 climate-change conference, President François Hollande announced that France will shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by 2023. Last week, the U.K. said the same thing, although its planned end date is two years later, in 2015.
There are a few reasons countries to rid themselves of coal so soon, when they have historically relied heavily on it to provide electricity. One is that enough renewables are already on line that coal is no longer essential. France invested early in nuclear power, and gets three quarters of its electricity from nuclear. The power is so plentiful that it exports $3.2 billion-worth of it per year. The World Nuclear Association estimates that France will reduce the role of nuclear to 50% by 2025, as other renewable sources take its place.
The other reason is that ditching coal is a cheap way to meet climate-change goals. Coal power is dirty, producing double the CO2 of natural gas to generate the same amount of electricity. Over in the U.K., coal power stations are, on average, 47 years old. Maintaining them, and bringing them up to the efficiency standards of more modern plants would be so expensive that the country is betting on renewables instead.
That’s a big part of why international agreements like the Paris Agreement are a big deal. Even if it didn’t cause countries to shape policy directly, the Paris Agreement is always there, pushing every environmental and industrial decision in the right direction.