Coal on the global market is so cheap that it threatens government attempts to tackle climate change, the chairman of the Environment Agency has warned.
Lord Smith says the UK’s share of electricity generated by coal is up to a third – the highest since 1996.
Unless this trend is curbed, he says, the UK will miss its targets on curbing climate change and sulphur pollution.
The price of coal has been driven down by the dash for shale gas in the US.
Gas is much less polluting than coal, so carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have fallen in the US. But European power generators have gobbled up the resulting cheap coal, driving carbon emissions up in several nations.
The EU’s statistical agency Eurostat estimates that from 2011 to 2012, CO2 emissions increased by 3.9% in the UK. The rise is most likely to be due to increased coal burning.
UK emissions of sulphur, which is damaging to health, have risen when they are supposed to be falling.
Lord Smith urges the government to commit to long-term targets to remove almost all carbon pollution from electricity generation by 2030. MPs are due to vote on this issue next week.