New rules hasten end for Europe’s dirtiest power plants

Chemical factory in the morning, with pipes and polluting smoke, long exposure

Europe’s most polluting power plants, including many large coal-fired power stations, will be forced to clean up or close down thanks to new EU rules adopted today. The revised standards demand reductions in toxic emissions, yet businesses and governments appear unprepared.

EU-wide compliance with the new rules could cost as much as €15.4bn, and 82% of coal capacity expected to be online in 2021 is currently failing to meet the minimum standards. With coal already in dramatic decline, the uncertainty created by stricter limits on pollution leaves closure as the only logical end for coal plants. [1]

The new standards [2] include tighter rules for emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and tiny pieces of harmful dust known as ‘particulate matter’ (PM). These toxic substances are linked to a host of health and environmental issues including the development of asthma in children and polluting of Europe’s air and water.

132 cities in 23 countries are breaching EU laws on air quality. [3] Worsening urban air pollution has been described as a ‘public health crisis’ and has led to growing demands from communities for urgent action.  Ensuring large power plants use the best available techniques to reduce pollution will lead to significant reductions in emissions and have a positive effect on air quality across Europe, including in cities.

The new rules were adopted despite the opposition of major coal-addicted economies. At the time of the vote in April, Germany was heavily criticised by health, environmental and climate groups for joining a ‘toxic bloc’ of eastern European countries in opposing the new limits. [4]

Today’s move provides a safety net of minimum expectations for Europe’s worst polluters, but more importantly it signals that the end for coal in Europe is looming. EU governments now have a maximum of four years to adapt their energy systems to the new limits and ensure workers and communities facing an uncertain economic future are empowered to transition to new livelihoods.

Christian Schaible, EEB Industrial Production Manager and a member of the Technical Working Group that helped to draft the revised standards:

“These new requirements will help speed up the energy transition, but not all plants will have the will, the financing, or even the access to the equipment needed to reduce pollution levels. Investments in plants that are already essentially on life support in order to meet climate commitments simply doesn’t make sense. Plants that commit to close could, under strict conditions and in exchange for reduced operation, be granted exceptions in the short-term, but Europe will have to have phased out coal completely by 2030.”

Notes to editors:

The new standards are set in the BAT (Best Available Techniques) Conclusions of the revised LCP BREF (Large Combustion Plants Best Available Techniques Reference Document) that was adopted today and will be published in the Official Journal of the European Union shortly.

The potential for the new standards to reduce the negative health impacts of coal in Europe were revealed in a joint report published last October: ‘Lifting Europe’s Dark Cloud: How cutting coal saves lives’.

Check the potential impact of the new limits on coal plants in your country.

The new standards may seem much stricter, but are in fact based on what is already being achieved by other plants across Europe and around the world. Many European plants are responsible for excessive pollution because they have not been required to invest in ‘abatement’ techniques to reduce their emissions.

For more information about the LCP BREF, see Our Q&A guide: What is the LCP BREF?

The EEB has also produced this more detailed analysis of the impact of the new rules on a variety of power plants.


[1] Report on Hard Coal/Lignite Fired Power Plants in EU28 by DNV GL for the European Climate Foundation. 16 June 2017.

[2] Commission to review permits of Large Combustion Plants, European Commission Press Release, 31 July 2017.

[3] Commission warns Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom of continued air pollution breaches, European Commission Press Release, 15 Feb 2017

[4] Cleaner air the winner after Germany fails to block new EU rules, EEB Press Release, 28 Apr 2017

For more information:

Anton Lazarus - Communications Officer - Industrial Production, European Environmental Bureau

+32 2 790 88 18

New rules hasten end for Europe’s dirtiest power plants
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