When Canada announced it would (virtually) phase out coal, some commenters yawned. Coal is already obsolete. This has more to do with natural gas than renewables. Where already too far down the road to climate ruin.
These folks have a point.
The decline in coal—while it has happened much faster than anyone expected—has as much to do with competition from fracked natural gas as it does climate action, government policy or a switch to renewables. Still, those elements are also playing their part. And the fact that American utility CEOs and European heads of government both see the writing on the wall for coal should be considered a very encouraging sign.
That's why I perked up this morning to hear that Portuguese environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes has confirmed that his country will stop burning coal by 2030 at the latest. Details of the announcement are a little sparse on the English-speaking internet, but we'll be digging around for more details.
And yes, I fully understand that phasing out coal does not mean the battle is won. But I do believe many economies are seeing a fundamental, irreversible shift toward a lower carbon economic model. Consider these headlines from just the last few days:
—Paris, Mexico City, Athens, Madrid to ban diesel engines by 2025 (Business Green)
—London mayor celebrates putting London's cycling budget on a par with Denmark (Business Green)
—Morocco aims for 100% renewable energy (yours truly, here)
—London commits, all new city center single-decker buses will be zero emission, starting now (again, me)
—US electric car sales up 44% in November (Cleantechnica)
Yes, of course there will be backsliding. Yes, some governments will be more proactive than others. And yes, there is a very real race against time going on as to whether we cut emissions fast enough to head off the worst impacts of runaway climate change. But I believe the direction of our course is set. We now have to pick up the pace with whatever leverage each of us has and make it happen. And we have to do it fast.