Coal power plants are delaying climate goals

The number of planned new power plants fell last year, but coal-fired power rose 9% to a record high.

The number of coal-fired power plants under development around the world fell last year, but too much coal is still being burned and too many new coal-fired power plants are planned to keep the world within safe temperature limits.

Coal use appeared to be in long-term decline before the Covid-19 pandemic, but global lockdowns and economic turmoil fueled a wave of new coal projects in 2020, particularly in China.

Last year, total coal-fired power capacity under development fell sharply again, by around 13%, from 525 GW to 457 GW, a record high for new power plants under development, according to a report by the Global Energy Monitor published on Tuesday. The number of countries planning new plants has also decreased, from 41 at the start of 2021 to 34 countries.

But these encouraging signs have been offset by a slowdown in old coal-fired plants that have been taken out of service. About 25 GW of capacity has been retired, roughly equivalent to the amount of new capacity brought online in China, and the amount of coal-fired power has increased by 9% in 2021 to a record high, more than rebounding from a 4% crisis. in 2020 when Covid first hit.


Latest Coal Report

The report’s authors concluded that “the last gasp of coal is still not in sight”, despite the countries agreeing at the United Nations Cop26 climate summit last November to a “phasing out ” coal. Last year, the International Energy Agency warned that no new exploration for fossil fuels of any kind could take place if the world limited global warming to 1.5°C above global warming. preindustrial levels.

The continued use of coal comes despite increasingly alarming warnings from scientists in the latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concluded that the world would far exceed the 1 .5°C without a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Flora Champenois of Global Energy Monitor, one of the authors of the report, said: “The coal plant pipeline is shrinking, but there is simply no carbon budget left to build new coal plants.

We have to stop now. The directive from the latest IPCC report to fight for a livable climate is clear: stop building new coal-fired power plants and phase out existing ones in the developed world by 2030, and in the rest of the world soon after. »

The war in Ukraine has also taken its toll, driving up gasoline prices and making coal cheaper in comparison, prompting companies and countries to burn more of the dirtiest fuel.

But Lauri Myllyvirta, a senior analyst at the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research, and another co-author of the report, said there could also be a benefit to the fact that many countries, particularly in Europe , were looking to reform their energy systems to accelerate clean energy and emphasize energy efficiency.

“It’s really important to note how much of a move towards clean energy and efficiency there has been in response to the invasion,” he said.


Weaker demand in China has also clouded prospects for a new coal renaissance, he added. The country’s response to the current resurgence of Covid-19 and the uncertain global economy would be crucial. “The question is whether China continues the high-quality economic growth that leaders have been talking about.”

China has commissioned more new coal-fired power plants than the rest of the world combined since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Chinese government’s plans to increase clean electricity generation by 2025 should mean that less coal is used, even though it uses new coal energy, power plants are built there.

But the construction of such factories needs to be much more strictly controlled, the report said, or the accumulation of excess capacity could harm the country’s transition.

Globally, there are still more than 2,400 coal-fired power plants in operation in 79 countries, totaling nearly 2,100 GW of capacity. Only 170 factories are not covered by a final phase-out date or carbon neutrality target, but very few are expected to retire in time to stay within 1.5°C.

By Fiona Harvey. Articles in English

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