Paris Agreement has put a date on the end of coal-fired power

Marrakech 14 November – a new Climate Analytics report released today on the implications of the Paris Agreement for coal fired electric generation shows that the Paris Agreement 1.5°C temperature limit requires a quick phase-out of coal used for electric power generation.

Date2016, November 14
Coal power plant and wind turbines in western Finland. ©JV Vitra, Flickr
 

The study Implications of the Paris Agreement for Coal Use in the Power Sector analysed a range of energy-system models and found rich 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, according to report author and Climate Analytics CEO and founder Bill Hare. 

“Science shows that the easiest way to meet our Paris commitment to keep warming well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, as a first step, is to decarbonise the electricity sector by mid-century. To be fair, OECD nations need to phase out coal first – within 13 years by 2030 – building on the first steps some countries, like Austria, the UK, Belgium, Finland and Portugal and sub-national regions such as Alberta, Ontario and South Australia, have already made or announced in this regard. Outside the OECD, China has placed a cap on coal use and in India so called Ultra Mega coal plans are being cancelled,” Hare said.
The report shows that if a rapid reduction in coal generation in the rich world well before 2030 and worldwide by mid-century is not achieved then our reliance on negative emissions technologies in the second half of the century will increase dramatically.

“Early, ambitious and concerted action is needed worldwide to hedge against the risk that negative emissions technologies may not be feasible to deploy at the scale and speed needed, not least in light of concerns on cost, sustainability and other challenges,” said Marcia Rocha, Head of the Climate Policy team at Climate Analytics and lead author of the report.

Meeting the Paris goal requires a total global phase out of coal by 2050 with rich countries supporting the efforts of developing ones. But the report finds emissions from current and under construction coal plants – 2.308 gigawatts or 314Gt of CO2 emissions – is already 2.5 higher than the cost-optimal share for coal in the global carbon budget. 

Making matters worse, there are over 1000 additional plants in the planning process around the world, even in wealthy countries such as Japan, meaning that coal emissions are still going in the wrong direction.

“Continuing to invest in coal infrastructure is risky – to meet our commitments, new coal plants will have to be switched off before their life expectancy ends, which is bad news for investors, and bad news for citizens who deserve better,” Hare said.  

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said: “It is clear that both shutting down existing coal and avoiding new coal build is absolutely essential to avoid devastating air pollution and climate impacts. COP22 is an opportunity for governments to make it clear that they are shifting to a cleaner future for their people. In the implementation of their national climate plans, governments should show the just way forward away from coal to renewable energy solutions.”

Recent studies show air pollution from coal fired power plants currently causes over 800,000 premature deaths a year which could be eradicated when replaced with renewable energy.

Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in the US coal was already experiencing a major downturn.

“People around the world want clean air, healthy communities, and world powered by clean energy instead of dirty fossil fuels like coal and gas. This report underscores the urgency of our work to power our world with 100% clean energy. In the US grassroots pressure is driving an unprecedented transition from coal to clean energy, with nearly half of the coal plants that were operating in 2010 either retired or announced to retire,” said Nilles. “The Beyond Coal Campaign is approaching 250 coal plants retired or announced to retire, and that’s due primarily to people in communities across America rejecting the dirty fuels that drive climate change. We’re proud to be part of a global movement pushing for clean, sustainable energy — not dirty coal.”

Ben Caldecott, Director of the Sustainable Finance Programme at the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment: “New investments in coal-fired power stations will become stranded. They are incompatible with tackling climate change and they will be made redundant by renewable technologies that don’t pollute the air or deplete the natural environment. This is already happening around the world.”

“The UK’s decision to phase out coal shows the way forward for other developed countries. Not only will this make a big difference to UK power sector emissions, it provides certainly for companies to invest in new capacity. Old, unreliable, and heavily polluting coal-fired power stations hanging around on the system disincentivises new capacity investment.”

Kathrin Gutmann, CAN Europe coal policy coordinator said: “Civil society is increasingly considering coal the indicator of how serious a government is about its commitments. We’re drawing a line in the sand – all rich countries need a credible plan to urgently phase out coal.”

Watch the report launch webcast with Bill Hare, Kaisa Kosonen (Greenpeace International), Steve Herz (Sierra Club) and Alvin Lin (NRDC) at a press conference during climate talks in Marrakech here.