Bonn climate goal to phase out coal by 2030 may further isolate U.S.

Last Updated Nov 16, 2017 12:24 PM EST

The world, it seems, is forging ahead with ways to slow climate change, leaving President Trump and the U.S. even more isolated on the issue. 

Earlier this month, Syria finally said it planned to join the Paris climate accord, making the U.S. the only United Nations member unsupportive of the agreement reached last year. 

And earlier this week, the Trump administration pushed coal at the start of a week of international meetings held in Bonn, Germany, to further goals aspired to in the Paris accord -- a move that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg likened it to "promoting tobacco at a cancer summit."

On Thursday, 20 countries, two U.S. states and five Canadian provinces pushed back. They joined an international alliance vowing to phase out coal from power generation completely by 2030 as part of the talks in Bonn. 

Signatories include Oregon and Washington in the United States as well as Alberta, Canada; Angola; Austria; Belgium; British Columbia, Canada; Costa Rica; Denmark; Finland; Fiji; France; Italy; Luxembourg; Marshall Islands; Mexico; Netherlands; New Zealand; Niue; Ontario, Canada; Portugal; Quebec, Canada; Switzerland; United Kingdom; and Vancouver, Canada.

But wait: the world's biggest users of coal -- China, India, the United States, Russia and notably Germany -- didn't join the declaration Thursday. 

Coal is a major contributor to carbon emissions when it comes to fossil fuels. China is forecast to have the biggest surge in carbon emissions this year, with the U.S. projected to be second as global carbon emissions are expected to reach a record high. The spike follows three years in which human-generated emissions "appeared to be leveling off," according to Inside Climate News.

And the Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to push more coal even as plants close. In October, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to roll back restrictions on coal-fired power plants, a key policy promise of Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

U.S. coal production fell 18.8 percent in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. And while production initially rose earlier this year, it may be flattening as wind and solar make up a larger part of the mix, Bloomberg recently reported.

Constructing and operating a utility-size wind farm can cost as little as a lifetime of $30 a megawatt hour, a measure used for electricity consumption, and less if one take subsidies into account. Existing coal plants can cost $26 to $39 a megawatt hour, Bloomberg reported, citing a report from the investment bank Lazard.

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Even without the biggest producers of the fossil fuel, clean energy proponents cheered the coal goal.

"By moving away from coal, the world will be well on its way to clean air, clean water and climate stability," the Sierra Club said in a statement. "The governments who have joined this alliance just demonstrated how countries should be taking meaningful action on climate, and we applaud them for this critical step to move the world beyond coal."