Repeat offenders: Coal power plants top the EU emitters list

  • Brussels

  • 23 May 2023

An analysis published today by energy think tank Ember reveals that the EU’s ten largest emitters are all coal plants, with Germany and Poland dominating the list. 

The top ten plants alone were responsible for a quarter of all emissions from the power sector in 2022, and 13% of total EU emissions recorded in the EU-ETS. Seven of the coal plants have been amongst the top 10 power plants every year for the last decade, with PGE’s Bełchatów in Poland topping the list as it has done since the scheme began in 2005. 

“Coal plants are the repeat offenders of the EU’s dirty list,” said Ember’s analyst Harriet Fox. “The faster Europe can get off coal power the better.”

The analysis looks at emissions recorded in 2022 in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS), which covers more than 10,000 installations across sectors including aviation, power and industry.

In 2022, the power sector accounted for 739 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), around half of total EU-ETS emissions. Coal was responsible for more than 60% of power sector emissions, of which Germany and Poland accounted for two thirds. 

Three utilities dominated power sector emissions for the sixth consecutive year: RWE, PGE and EPH. They each emitted almost as much CO2e as Italy’s power sector in 2022. Together those three utilities accounted for 30% of the EU’s power sector emissions, with lignite plants responsible for the majority of this.

Coal is on the way out

While coal still dominates the EU’s emissions, the long-term decline of coal power is clear: coal emissions in 2022 were 40% lower than a decade ago. Despite concerns about Europe returning to coal power during the global gas crisis, the increases were limited. Coal power emissions rose 6% compared to 2021, but remained below 2019 levels. 

The two biggest EU-ETS coal power emitters, Germany and Poland, have both seen declines. However Germany is moving more quickly. Germany has achieved a 37% decline in coal power emissions in the last decade, and is now targeting a 2030 coal phase-out. Poland, however, has yet to set a coal phase-out date and only achieved a 12% decline in the last decade. As a result, Poland has an increased share of EU-ETS coal power sector emissions in 2022 (28%), up from 19% a decade ago, while Germany’s share remained stable.

“Poland will soon be left as the EU’s biggest emitter if it doesn’t change course,” continued Harriet Fox. “Germany is making strides to cut its coal dependency, but Poland has yet to begin.”