Coal is a climate killer - whatever its efficiency is | RenewEconomy

Coal is a climate killer – whatever its efficiency is

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Power production from coal needs to reduce drastically as from today, and be completely phased out by the middle of this century.

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The argument that high-efficiency coal-fired power plants are a viable solution for reducing CO2- emissions, the main cause for climate change, is still defended with vigour by the coal industry and governments that have a stake in that industry – in particular Japan, Germany, South Korea, Australia and Poland. With this argument, Japan even dares to count public finance for coal plants as ‘climate finance’.

Research by Ecofys, commissioned by WWF, completely discredits these claims. It shows that, based on data of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), emissions from the global electricity sector need to rapidly reduce and be close to zero by 2050 in order to stay well under 2°C. An even more rapid decline will be needed in order to achieve the commitment taken at the UN climate summit in Paris in December 2015 to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’.



Power production from coal needs to reduce drastically as from today, and be completely phased out by the middle of this century.

Coal development still continues, however. There are currently huge plans to build no less than 2300 new coal plants globally, equivalent to a capacity of 1400GW. If all these plants are built, CO2- emissions from existing and new plants in 2030 would amount to 11 gigatonnes: this is six times higher than what a 1.5°C carbon budget would allow. Equipping all new plants with the most efficient technologies would only lead to marginal emission reductions of approximately 1 gigatonne, keeping the 1.5°C target far out of reach.

While governments prepare to come together and officially sign the global climate Paris Agreement, it is time for them to become serious about their climate change commitments. They should recognise what research demonstrates: that the global carbon budget and the time remaining to reduce greenhouse gas emissions simply do not allow for the replacement of retired coal plants with new more efficient coal plants, let alone capacity extensions.

Rich countries should lead the effort to phase out coal. The Ise-Shima G7 summit to be held on 26 – 28 May in Japan – a notoriously obtrusive country when it comes to coal – offers an opportunity to do so. The G7 countries – Canada, France, Germany,Great Britain,Italy,Japan, and theUnited States.- should commit to putting their money where their mouth is, and immediately end all public financial support for any type of coal plant technology, whatever its efficiency is. They should also publicly commit to phase out coal plants in their country by 2035 at the latest, as a precursor to the global phase-out needed by 2050.

The Ecofys research rebuts once and for all that high-efficient coal can be a solution to climate change. As a result, it makes clear that in a post-Paris world, there is simply no role for coal anymore. Demand-side management and renewable energies are the solutions we need.

Jan Vandermosten is the Sustainable Finance Policy Officer for WWF’s European Policy Office. He is based in Brussels. [email protected]

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  1. Mike Dill 4 years ago

    Until the externalized costs (health, climate, smog) are put back in, it seems that fossil fuels are ‘cheap’. Once you do add up those costs, coal is very expensive. Too bad the health ministers are not going after the source of the rising health care costs.

    • Suburbable 4 years ago

      Well said. The focus has been on environmental and energy ministers. We need to include health and welfare ministers in the mix and provide clear data as to how health and welfare will be affected by climate change. It’s the human cost that will be greatest, not a fairly arbitrary dollar value.

    • solarguy 4 years ago

      Coal is only cheaper now because old plant was built 40-50yrs ago and now at retirement age. If new coal plant were to be built to replace it, it would not compete with solar and wind!

      • david H 4 years ago

        I agree.I am actually quite positive that the total decline of coal fired power stations in the developed world will have happened by mid 21st century. Once the politicians understand what the RE technology can do and what the market (i.e. voters) want, they will have to get on board or be left out of their cushy positions.

        We also should be making a lot more noise about deforestation and encouraging reforestation i.e. the other side of the side of the carbon equation.

  2. Suburbable 4 years ago

    My concern with the targets set at Paris is that 2 degrees is what the delegates were comfortable with, 1.5 degrees was a bit of a stretch, but still acceptable and 2030 or 2050 are a safe way off, politically. Quite a few of those who signed off on these amounts and time frames won’t be in power, or just won’t be alive by the middle of this century.

    This leads me to question how these targets really match the urgency of the situation. Of course, it’s great that agreements were made at all, but doing what is most comfortable for a group of politicians and business leaders may not be enough.

  3. Alan S 4 years ago

    When we say ‘ban coal’ of course we’re not thinking about a ban on steam locomotives are we? Let’s keep a sense of perspective.

    • Ronald Brakels 4 years ago

      Throw some char in there. It works better than coal.

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