Ending new coal construction vital to 1.5oC goal
Ending coal power generation is central to keeping the 1.5oC goal within reach and 2021 is a pivotal year to making this a reality. Meeting the climate goals depends especially on the world’s resolve to end construction of new unabated coal plants. According to the IEA, to achieve the global transition to net zero emissions by 2050, action to tackle coal emissions must be rapidly stepped up and, as an immediate first step, the development of new unabated coal-fired power plants must stop - already this year.
Pressure grows for commitments to ‘no new coal’
The Powering Past Coal Alliance has been leading calls for an end to emissions from coal power, starting with stopping new coal plant development. Since the launch of the PPCA in 2017, every new member commits to no new unabated coal plants, alongside ending financing of coal power generation and delivering a coal phase out in line with Paris Agreement timeframes. Through diplomatic outreach and knowledge sharing, the Alliance also encourages and supports other governments who wish to begin a process toward a phase out.
In the past two years, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres added new momentum to global efforts to stop construction of new coal plants. Speaking at the PPCA Summit in March this year, he urged all governments, private companies and local authorities to cancel all global coal projects in the pipeline, as a first step toward phasing out coal by 2030 in the OECD, and by 2040 in the rest of the world. In June, G7 members also recognised that "continued global investment in unabated coal power generation is incompatible with keeping 1.5°C within reach." Most recently, countries most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change in the Pacific region have underlined that “further development of coal as the most polluting conventional energy source is totally inconsistent with the Paris Agreement’s goals and could render 1.5oC impossible”.
New coal projects in decline
Global trends for new coal development are moving in the right direction. According to new analysis released by PPCA partner E3G last week, there has been a historical shift in investment away from new coal plants since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Proposed new coal power capacity globally has plunged by over three-quarters in the last five years, with 1,175 gigawatts of new coal projects cancelled.
According to the think tank, 44 countries have already committed to no new coal. This includes all 41 national government members of the PPCA, who made this commitment as a condition of membership, as well as Chile, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. A further 40 countries are now in a position to do the same, following the cancellation of previously proposed power plants. Only 37 countries (less than one in five globally) still plan to build new coal power plants, 16 of which have only one project left.
Governments are ending support for new coal projects in response to concerns over the climate crisis and competition from renewables. Coal plants are increasingly financially unviable and cease to attract funding and insurance, as new renewables are cheaper than new coal in all major markets around the world. This year, G7 countries, South Korea, and the Asian Development Bank have pledged to stop international finance for new unabated coal projects. The number of private financial institutions signing up to the PPCA to work together to cease new investments in coal-fired power has also been growing fast.
PPCA members leading the way
PPCA members have opened a pathway for others to take the first steps towards coal phase-out by acting on no new coal. Many, like Austria or Belgium have not considered new coal plants since 2015. The UK committed to a policy of ‘no new coal without CCS’ in 2009, which effectively put an end to ~15GW of proposed new coal power plants. The Netherlands, Germany and Greece turned their backs on recently constructed or planned new coal power plants. Most recently in 2021, North Macedonia and Montenegro confirmed that their aging coal power plants would not be replaced by new coal power, setting an example to neighbours in the Balkans.
Most PPCA members are now focused on accelerating retirement of existing coal power generation, with 56% of capacity either closed already since 2010 or scheduled to close by 2030. They are also working with other countries who need support to scale up renewables in place of coal plants. They are already seeing environmental, economic and human health benefits of the clean energy transition. Their fast progress gives reassurance to others that they can both stop building new coal and start a rapid transition towards clean energy to lay the foundations for a sustainable energy system.
All countries are now faced with a significant opportunity to end new coal construction at COP26, helping to deliver on the summit’s key goal to “consign coal power to history” set by COP President Designate Alok Sharma. They can put their full weight behind this effort by formally committing to ‘no new coal’ at the earliest opportunity ahead of the summit, starting with the UN General Assembly and the High-level Dialogue on Energy this week.