Despite fervour for renewables, 2,500 coal plants are planned (for now)

Despite fervour for renewables, 2,500 coal plants are planned (for now)

By our special correspondent Eric J. Lyman (@EricJLyman)

PARIS – The nearly 2,500 coal plants in some stage of development worldwide would produce more than four times as much emissions as would fit under scenarios that would keep global warming below even 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, according to a new report.

The “Coal Gap” report released by Climate Action Tracker Tuesday on the sidelines of the Paris climate summit noted that goals of limited warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels was incompatible with even current coal production levels.

With only existing coal plants added to the calculation, emissions from coal would be 50 percent above what are seen as “pathways” of limiting warming to 2 degrees between now and 2030. If plants in development are included, emissions become at least 400 percent the allowable level over the next 15 years, and if more are discovered in that span the total would be even higher.

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

The news comes after the U.K. dramatically announced last month it would phase out coal plants within a decade. The last deep-pit coal mine in that country will close later this month.

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

This all comes as delegates at the Paris talks focus on what is being called a “long-term goal” in the text. Though there is no agreed-to language on that at this point, most of the options call for a complete or near phase-out of fossil fuels or near zero worldwide emissions by some point in the second half of the century.

The report’s authors said they hoped that goal would result in many — or perhaps most — of the planned plants being scrapped.

“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 NewClimate Institute.


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