Chalk one for the Paris Agreement: coal plants are getting canceled left and right

It’s far from a big win, but the Paris Agreement, a global landmark deal on climate change from 2015, did seem to pay off in one way. Plans for coal-fired power plants have been cut by as much as 76% since its signing, largely thanks to the expansion of cleaner energy.

Image credit: Flickr / Ivan Radic

Virtually every country in the globe adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015, a universal climate deal to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. Countries agreed to limit global warming to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, while also aiming at 1.5ºC if possible – a half-degree would actually make a big difference for all of us. 

Global emissions have continued to grow since the agreement was signed, especially due to emerging economies such as China and India, but also with many developed countries like the US also falling short on their proposed action — and they’ve got decades of emissions to drop down from. Still, it’s not all bad news.

In the report, researchers of the climate groups E3G, Global Energy Monitor, and Ember found that since 2015, a total of 44 governments have pledged to not open any new coal plants. Another 40 countries also don’t have any projects in the pre-construction pipeline and could also commit to not investing in any more coal energy projects, the authors said. 

“Only five years ago, there were so many new coal power plants planned to be built, but most of these have now been either officially halted, or are paused and unlikely to ever be built,” Dave Jones, from Ember, told The Guardian. “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.”

The long road ahead

The report found that a total of 1,175GW of planned coal-fired power projects were cancelled since 2015 thanks to market trends, government policies and civil society action. This has avoided a 56% expansion of the global coal fleet as of June this year, which would have been liked adding another China (now with 1.047GW of coal) to the global coal capacity. 

Countries in the OECD plus the European Union are the ones who have progressed the most in leaving coal energy behind, with 56% of their coal capacity either closed since 2010 or scheduled to close by 2030. Meanwhile, the pipeline of future plants dropped 85% since 2015. Remaining projects account for 6% of the global pipeline. 

Reduction in size of the global coal project pipeline (left) and year-on-year tracking of projects that were cancelled or newly operational (right)

The authors identified six countries that account for four-fifths of the remaining coal energy projects currently in the pipeline. There are India, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh. Scrapping those projects would cut 82% of future coal plants globally. The other coal energy projects are located across 31 countries, 16 of which only have one planned plant. 

China is the main challenge ahead, as it has 53% of the capacity under construction and 55% of the pre-construction pipeline. Nevertheless, the country has seen a 74% reduction in the number of projects planned, with 484GW cancelled since the Paris Agreement. The government has said it plans to “strictly control” any new coal growth.

For the researchers, the international community should support these countries in moving away from coal by providing public and private clean energy finance as well as technical and capacity assistance. The upcoming climate meeting COP26 in the UK in November can create a momentum for such support to be expanded, they argued. 

Of course, the cancellation of coal plants can only mean good news for our planet’s environment, but the reason seems to be economic rationale more than anything else.

A previous study earlier by the think tank Carbon Tracker showed that coal developers could lose up to $600 billion thanks to the cheaper costs of renewable energy. Up to 60% of the coal plants that are operating around the globe currently generate electricity at higher costs than it could be produced by using renewables.

The full report can be accessed here.

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