There has been a 76% reduction in proposed coal power plants across the globe since the landmark Paris climate agreement was struck in late 2015, bringing the world closer to the goal of no new coal plant construction.
These are the main conclusions from a new report published today by independent climate change think-tank E3G, which posits that the planet is nearing a point of “no new coal” after the widespread collapse of new coal proposals and the growth of government commitments to end coal.
New coal proposals have fallen by 76% since the end of 2015 when the Paris Agreement negotiations were completed, and 42 countries have committed to “no new coal”, and a further 41 countries are in a position to do the same following the cancellation of previously proposed coal capacity.
But the report also finds that just six countries are responsible for 82% of the remaining global pipeline of proposed coal capacity – countries unsurprisingly led by China, which alone accounts for 55% of the global total of proposed new coal capacity.
The other six countries consist of India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey, and Bangladesh. The remaining 18% global pipeline of coal is spread thinly across a further 31 countries, 16 of which are only one project away from committing to UN Secretary General Guterres’ call for ‘no new coal by 2021’.
“The collapse of the global coal pipeline and the rise of commitments to ‘no new coal’ are progressing hand in hand,” said Chris Littlecott, Associate Director at E3G.
“Ahead of COP26, governments can collectively confirm their intention to move from coal to clean energy.
“The economics of coal have become increasingly uncompetitive in comparison to renewable energy, while the risk of stranded assets has increased. Governments can now act with confidence to commit to ‘no new coal’.”
The report also determines that 56% of operating coal capacity across the countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has either already closed since 2010 or is scheduled to close by 2030.
Worth noting at this point is that, among these OECD countries, Australia, Turkey, Poland, Mexico, and Colombia are under increasing pressure to follow the lead of their peers in cancelling their remaining proposed new coal projects and committing to no new coal.
Regardless of economic development levels, though, as can be seen in the graph below, proposed coal capacity is in a steady decline across the globe.
Among non-OECD countries, but excluding China, the pre-construction pipeline of new coal capacity has collapsed by 77% since 2015, with a subsequent cancellation ration of 5:1.
“New coal plants are incompatible with the international Paris climate agreement,” said Christine Shearer, report co-author and Program Director at Global Energy Monitor. “The world’s leading scientific bodies are clear: coal power needs to be essentially phased out in the next two decades to prevent dangerous climate change.
“The upcoming climate talks are an opportune time for the world’s leaders to come together and commit to a world with no new coal plants, in line with what the science demands.”
China, however, remains the dominant player in coal. It is home to almost 53% of coal capacity currently under construction and 55% of the pre-construction pipeline.
According to the E3G report, China’s share of the total global pre-construction pipeline has increased every year since 2015 – though, given what we have seen of the massive trend towards cancelling new coal, this probably has more to do with the total global pipeline shrinking.
In fact, China has seen a 74% reduction in the scale of its coal project pipeline, cancelling 484GW worth of coal capacity proposals since the negotiation of the Paris Agreement.
Moreover, according to the report, “President Xi has announced an intention that China will ‘strictly control’ new coal growth, but this has yet to be reflected in sectoral Five-Year Plan (FYP) policies.
“As home to half of the world’s operating coal capacity and development pipeline, China has not yet demonstrated that it is acting with the level of effort required.”
E3G calls on China to follow the example of its East Asian neighbours, Japan and South Korea, in ending the provision of new overseas coal finance, which the report expects could impact over 40GW of planned new capacity across 20 countries.
“The structural transformation of the global electricity sector is accelerating, with countries increasingly steering away from coal power generation as they recognise that coal is a fuel of the past,” said Leo Roberts, report author and Research Manager at E3G.
“The 41 countries in a position to commit to ‘no new coal’ can now join those who have already done so since Paris. Those countries still considering new power plants should urgently recognise the inevitability of the global shift away from coal and avoid the costly mistake of building new projects.”
With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, coming up in November, E3G calls on governments to collectively confirm their intention to abandon new and old coal generation capacity and move towards clean energy.
“We urge governments to publicly state their intentions that no new coal plants will be built in their country,” said Dave Jones, Global Programme Lead at Ember, one of E3Gs partners.
“Only five years ago, there were so many new coal power plants planned to be built, but most of these have been now either officially halted, or are paused and unlikely ever to be built.
“Multiple countries can add their voices to a snowball of public commitments to “no new coal”, collectively delivering a key milestone to sealing coal’s fate. Most countries have now, or will shortly have, billions of dollars of investment flowing every year into renewable energy; the possibility of building new coal power plants will only undermine and distract from that.”