The majority of coal-fired electricity is not phased out quickly enough to meet climate goals and avoid catastrophic global warming, despite new commitments made at Cop26.
As coal is on the verge of extinction, some of the largest coal-dependent economies may delay too long, according to a new report from the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
“Current promises and targets are absolutely not enough to ensure that coal-fired power is phased out quickly enough to avert the worst of global warming,” said lead author of the report, Lauri Myllyvirta.
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel and the International Energy Agency has made it clear that if it is not phased out quickly, the world has no hope of staying below 1.5 ° C. global warming.
While major coal-dependent nations first pledged at the UN climate summit in Glasgow to gradually reduce coal-fired power generation, there is still a long way to go, says Flora Champenois, research analyst at Global Energy Monitor.
“The price of renewables has dropped dramatically over the past decade, so it’s clearer than ever that dirty, unprofitable energy must go. At the same time, we have seen how slow and difficult it is to change the status quo, no matter how compelling the coal power economy is. “
The data shows how much of a responsibility higher income countries have when it comes to phasing out coal across the world.
Leo Roberts, research director at E3G, said that in addition to shutting down their own coal fleets: “Rich countries need to make funding available to support the coal transition in the Global South.
He added that investors and taxpayers should be concerned about the profitability of new coal-fired power plants. If these projects go ahead, they could lose $ 150 billion (£ 113 billion) on stranded assets, according to a Carbon Tracker report.
Despite a delay in the timeline set by the International Energy Agency, there are signs that key players are making progress in the transition. In India, “the clean energy targets announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi mean that coal-fired power generation could peak well before 2030,” Myllyvirta said.
And while the United States is not on track to phase out by 2030, according to Global Energy Monitor, a changing tide of economic factors and political will could cause the country to align. Roberts pointed out that the growing non-competitiveness of coal is already driving the retirements of coal-fired power plants nationwide.
Of the three largest coal-dependent economies, China’s status is surrounded by the most uncertainties. Although the country has pledged to stop building new coal-fired power plants abroad, it still plans to increase its domestic capacity. “Before China, with by far the largest fleet of coal-fired power plants in the world, announces firm plans for a phase-out, we will not be on the right track,” Myllyvirta said.
But despite the uncertainty over China, experts say there is cause for optimism. The rate at which countries are moving away from coal has accelerated in recent years, and many new projects have already been canceled.
“The rate at which [global] the outlook has changed, “according to Myllyvirta,” from a handful of small countries with a phase-out commitment as recently as 2015, to assigning a firm phase-out date to a quarter of the global fleet of coal. This is extremely encouraging and shows that it can be done.