LONDON — Friday was the first full day since the height of the Industrial Revolution that Britain did not burn coal to generate electricity, a development that officials and climate change activists celebrated as a watershed moment.
The accomplishment became official just before 11 p.m., when the 24-hour period ended.
Coal powered Britain into the industrial age and into the 21st century, contributing greatly to the “pea souper” fogs that were thought for decades to be a natural phenomenon of the British climate.
For many living in the mining towns up and down the country, it was not just the backbone of the economy but a way of life. But the industry has been in decline for some time. The last deep coal mine closed in December 2015, though open cast mining has continued.
Coal-fired power generation contributes heavily to climate change; burning coal produces twice as much carbon dioxide as burning natural gas. Reducing the world’s reliance on coal and increasing the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power have long been part of proposals to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
Now on a path to phase out coal-fired power generation altogether by 2025, Britain, also the home of the first steam engine, is currently closing coal plants and stepping up generation from cleaner natural gas and renewables, like wind and solar. “Symbolically, this is a milestone,” said Sean Kemp, a spokesman for National Grid, Britain’s power grid operator. “A kind of end of an era.”
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