Coal phase-out


Coal is the most carbon intensive fossil fuel and phasing it out is a key step to achieve the emissions reductions needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Most emissions from coal are in the electricity sector and, as we already have the technologies that can replace coal, phase out is a relatively cheap and easy option to reduce emissions. Our research shows that the EU and OECD countries must stop burning coal for electricity by 2030, China by 2040 and the rest of the world by mid-century in order to meet commitments made in Paris in the most cost effective manner.

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Impact of our work

Our coal reports underpin the global coal phase-out movement by providing science-based benchmarks to establish target coal phase-out dates that are consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance, launched at COP23, in its declaration refers directly to the benchmarks provided in our global coal report, to stress that the Paris Agreement requires coal phase-out by 2030 in the OECD countries and by 2050 in the rest of the world. This alliance, in which national and sub-national partners commit to phasing out existing coal power in their jurisdictions, and to introducing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations, aims to increase its membership to 50 by 2018.

In Europe, a number of countries and sub-national authorities have established phase-out dates consistent with the 2030 benchmark provided in our reports. The recently launched BeyondCoal European campaign, is aiming at establishing similar commitments in the remaining member states to achieve a coal phase-out in the European Union by 2030.

Selected media coverage

Abschalten statt nachrüsten, Klimaretter, 4 December 2017

Canada and the UK launch new global alliance against coal during COP23, Climate Action, 17 November 2017

Kohleausstieg in Europa: Ein Ende mit Schrecken, Die Tageszeitung, 10 February 2017

“Wir müssen auf politischer Ebene eine Lösung finden” Deutschlandfunk, 9 February 2017

EU needs to shut all coal plants by 2030 to meet climate goals, Deutsche Welle, 22 February 2017

EU must shut all coal plants by 2030 to meet Paris climate pledges, study says, The Guardian, 9 February 2017

EU must kick coal habit by 2030 and the rest of the world by 2050 to meet Paris emissions targets, report says, The Independent, 9 February 2017

Rich Countries Told to Close Coal Plants by 2030 to Save Climate, Bloomberg, 12 November 2016

Marrakech climate talks an emotional ride as reports show need to end coal power, The Guardian, 12 November 2016

Expanding our work

Coal is still cheap because it does not factor in the costs of environmental and health impacts, so there is no strong market signal to phase out. Many developing countries look to coal to meet their rapidly growing energy demand due to its low price, the availability of this technology and blueprints for coal deployment, as well as financing. However, renewable energy is a low cost alternative and many countries are already well on the way in its deployment at scale, while others have a very high potential for its deployment.

We’re in the process of expanding our work on science-based coal phase out strategies into the Asia-Pacific region, including current projects focusing on Japan and Pakistan. A number of countries in this region are planning to significantly increase their coal capacities. Phasing out coal is a complex problem; solving it must involve many actors and it must occur on parallel with a phase-in of renewables and integration. We work with partner institutions to develop an analytical framework that encompasses not just coal phase-out but also renewables phase-in and integration, aiming to inform policymakers in developing countries.

In China and Pakistan’s coal romance – where is the love for the climate? The Conversation, 30 March 2017
Pakistan is just one example that illustrates these issues. In a recent opinion editorial, Climate Analytics’ Dr Fahad Saeed writes about Pakistan’s plans to massively expand its coal capacity, and the political and financial dynamics behind this development.

Useful links

The Global Plant Tracker
Beyond Coal
Europe Beyond Coal
Coal Exit List

Coal phase-out – regional perspective

CO2 emissions from operating coal power plants in all regions in the world largely surpass emissions budget in line with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit. Building new coal power plants would be completely inconsistent with any development in line with meeting the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal.

The cost-optimal pathways show that to be in line with the Paris Agreement, the OECD and EU countries need to phase out coal the fastest – by 2030. China would need to phase out coal around 2040, and the rest of the world by 2050.

Our report Implications of the Paris Agreement for coal use in the power sector contains the full details of how we arrived at these coal phase out dates and what models we used to calculate the least-cost pathways.

Spotlight on the EU

The EU has over 300 power plants with 738 separate generating units (as of July 2016). These are not evenly distributed across the individual member states and those most reliant on coal are Poland, Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania. Germany and Poland alone are jointly responsible for 51% of the EU’s installed coal capacity and 54% of emissions from coal.

This map was made using data from the EU coal-fired power plants database hosted and coordinated by Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe. To view a full page version of the map click the chain icon in the bottom right hand corner or click here.

According to our modelling, the EU will exceed its Paris Agreement-compatible emissions budget for coal based electricity generation by 85% in 2050 if all existing coal-fired power plants continue operating to the end of their full life span. If currently announced and planned plants are built in the coming years, this number will rise to almost 100%.

For the EU to remain within its carbon budget, member states must first shelve plans for any additional coal-fired generating capacity and secondly, must start actively shutting down currently operating units at an increased rate. Analysis suggests 25% of currently operating coal-fired power units need to be shut down by 2020, rising to 72% by 2025, before a complete shutdown by 2030.

The critical question is which criteria should determine when individual units are switched off? In our report A stress test for coal in Europe under the Paris Agreement we outline two possible strategies for how the EU could achieve a complete phase out of coal use in electricity generation, proposing a shutdown date for each coal-fired power generating unit.

Both methods evaluate units on emissions performance and profit generation potential. The first approach, the Regulator Perspective, prioritises shutting down the most carbon intensive plants first, where as the second approach, the Market Perspective, prioritises shutting down the least valuable plants in terms of revenue generation potential.

Climate Analytics - Coal Shutdown Rates

More information / Full report / Executive summary – English / Executive summary – German / Executive summary – Polish

EU coal vs air pollution regulation

Apart from being the largest source of CO2 emissions, coal combustion is also a major threat to public health globally. Pollution from coal plants is responsible for about 23,000 premature death in the EU every year. New EU air pollution standards that come into force in 2021 are aimed reducing pollution from this power source substantially.

About 82% of EU, 80% German and virtually all Polish coal power plants do not comply with a new EU regulation on industry air pollution emissions standards that they need to meet by 2021.

The costs for upgrading these coal power plant to meet the new air pollution regulations could be between 8-14.5 billion € for the EU – 2.4-4.3 billion € for Poland and 0.7-1.2 billion € for Germany. In addition, operating costs of these plants with more effective filters would also increase.

Given the clear need to reduce CO2 emissions from coal to almost zero by 2030 within the EU, the most economically efficient means of reducing EU air pollution, and saving lives, will be to rapidly close coal plant, and replace the power produced with renewables and cleaner technology. A coal phase out would come with multiple benefits for economy, climate and public health.

Full briefing