Despite fervour for renewables, thousands of coal plants are in the pipeline

Even though COP21 seems to have ushered in an energy transition towards renewables, there are still too many coal plants being planned around the world.

There are nearly 2,500 coal plants in some stage of development worldwide. These will produce more than four times as much emissions as those which are permissible if global warming is to be kept below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. The alarm was raised by the Coal Gap report released by Climate Action Tracker, which highlights that goals of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 or 2 degrees are incompatible with current coal production levels.


Centrale elettrica nel Maryland, Stati Uniti © Lowell Georgia/Corbis
Power plant in Maryland, United States © Lowell Georgia/Corbis


Existing coal plants on their own will produce emissions 50% above “pathways” for limiting warming to 2 degrees between now and 2030. If plants in the pipeline are also taken into consideration emissions will be at least 400% above permissible levels over the next 15 years, and if more are planned total emissions will be even higher.


“There is only one solution to the problem of having too many coal plants on the books,” says Ecofys renewable energy researcher Pieter Van Breevoort, one of the report’s authors. “The only thing you can do is cancel them.”


brassai al palazzo ducale di genova
© Ashley Cooper/Corbis


The news comes after the United Kingdom announced last month it would phase out all coal plants within a decade. The last deep-pit coal mine in the country was shut down in December.


Still, the European Union and eight non-European countries — China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines and Turkey — are all planning to install at least 5 gigawatts of new coal capacity.


“If renewables take off as fast as is currently expected, many of these planned coal plants could be stranded investments,” said Markus Hagemann of the New Climate Institute. The report’s authors say they hope this goal will result in many — or perhaps most — of the planned plants being scrapped.


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