The U.K. is phasing out coal. Canada is phasing out coal. Austria, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Portugal are doing the same thing. Finland may go a step further: The government has proposed completely banning coal-powered electricity by 2030.
That's a stricter stance than a phase-out, which could in some cases allow certain coal plants to keep operating. In Canada, which plans to phase out coal by 2030, coal plants can technically stay open past that deadline if they install carbon-capture technology.
The proposed ban should be fairly easy to accomplish because Finland uses little coal now. As renewable energy has ramped up, coal has been declining since 2011. Only a handful of coal plants still remain.
"We are not especially dependent on coal," says Markku Ollikainen, a professor of environmental and resource economics at the University of Helsinki. Coal is now used only in the wintertime, when electricity use is highest, but not used at all for the majority of the year.
"Within a couple of years we will have a new nuclear plant producing electricity, and it's more than likely that it will close most of those [coal] plants that we have and put them out of production," he says. "So this is just to make the abandonment quicker than it would be otherwise."
Several EU countries have already closed down their last coal power plants—Belgium, for example, shut down its last coal plant in March. Others are aiming to get rid of coal on shorter time frames than Finland. Portugal's deadline is 2020, France 2023, and the U.K. and Austria are aiming for 2025.
The shift is helped by the fact that renewables are growing, electricity demand is dropping, and many old coal plants are nearing the end of their lives anyway.
Finland isn't perfect, energy-wise—the country still burns wood and peat as power sources, and both are sources of carbon emissions. It's possible the government may decide to end the use of peat next. But if coal is banned when the country's parliament votes on the current proposal, it could be an example for others.
"I'm pretty sure that there are countries that will follow Finland's example," says Ollikainen.