“The transition away from existing and new coal isn’t happening fast enough,” said one expert. “The more new coal projects come online, the steeper the cuts and commitments need to be in the future.”
To avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, the world must stop building new coal plants and shut down existing ones at nearly five times the current rate.
That’s according to an analysis published Wednesday by Global Energy Monitor (GEM) and nearly a dozen other groups, including Reclaim Finance, the Sierra Club, and the Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy.
GEM’s ninth annual survey of the world’s existing and proposed supply of coal-fired power—the largest single source of energy-related CO2 emissions—found that “outside China, the global coal pipeline is drying up,” albeit not at a quick enough pace.
Seventeen countries retired a combined 26 GW of operating coal capacity in 2022. Meanwhile, 25 GW of operating coal capacity received an announced close-by date of 2030.
However, to meet the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels—beyond which the climate emergency’s impacts will grow even deadlier, especially for humanity’s poorest members who bear the least responsibility for the crisis—coal power must be phased out completely by 2040. To stay on track while giving developing countries extra time to switch to renewables, high-income countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) must shutter their coal plants by 2030.
This “would require an average of 117 GW of retirements per year, or four-and-a-half times the capacity retired in 2022,” according to the report. “An average of 60 GW must come offline in OECD countries each year to meet their 2030 coal phaseout deadline, and for non-OECD countries, 91 GW each year for their 2040 deadline. Accounting for coal plants under construction and in consideration (537.1 GW) would require even steeper cuts.”
Lead author Flora Champenois, the project manager for GEM’s Global Coal Plant Tracker, said in a statement that “the transition away from existing and new coal isn’t happening fast enough to avoid climate chaos.”
“The more new projects come online, the steeper the cuts and commitments need to be in the future,” she noted.
Last year, the world added 45.5 GW of new coal capacity, meaning that the operating coal fleet grew by 19.5 GW overall.
“Fourteen countries commissioned new coal power in 2022,” the report notes. “More than half (59%) of the newly commissioned capacity was in China (25.2 GW), with a remaining 16% in South Asia (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh), 11% in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and Cambodia), 9% in East Asia (Japan and South Korea), and 5% in other regions.”
Outside China, the global coal fleet continued to shrink in 2022 as planned projects were canceled and old plants closed. But coal retirements slowed down compared with previous years due in large part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent gas prices soaring.
🇪🇺 retired only 2.2 GW last year after a record 14.6 GW, but coal is not making the comeback many expected from the energy crisis. The rebound in retirements in the next few years could make up for the lower than expected retirements in 2022. pic.twitter.com/grDFnPSnLK— Global Energy Monitor (@GlobalEnergyMon) April 6, 2023
“While coal under development—or coal in pre-construction and construction—has collapsed by two-thirds since the Paris agreement, nearly 350 GW of new capacity is still proposed across 33 countries, and an additional 192 GW of capacity is under construction,” the report notes. “China’s pre-construction and construction capacity surpassed the rest of the world’s in 2021, and the gap widened in 2022. New coal capacity under development in China increased by 38% (266 GW to 366 GW), while the capacity in the rest of the world decreased by 20% (214 GW to 172 GW). China now accounts for two-thirds (68%) of global capacity under development, up from 55% a year ago.”
Wednesday’s analysis follows the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest warning that burning existing fossil fuels will consume the world’s remaining “carbon budget,” or the maximum amount of planet-heating pollution compatible with preventing temperature rise from exceeding 1.5°C. The IPCC has made clear the need for “rapid and deep, and in most cases immediate greenhouse gas emission reductions.”
Upon the publication of the IPCC’s assessment two weeks ago, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres outlined “an ‘Accelerated Agenda‘ renewing calls for an immediate end to new coal, and for a phaseout of existing coal by 2030 in developed countries and 2040 in the rest of the world,” GEM’s new report points out. “Under such a scenario, only 70% of OECD operating coal capacity is currently on pace (330 GW), and outside the OECD, only 6% of coal capacity has a known closure date before 2040 (93 GW).”
“Urgent action is necessary to ensure an end to coal and a fighting chance at a livable climate,” the report adds. “To accomplish this, countries need to translate announcements into plant-by-plant retirement plans as well as ramp up phaseout commitments. Details on how current and future policies and funds will be implemented to impact coal retirement dates and ensure a swift and equitable end to new coal will be essential.”
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