The number of coal-fired power plants in the pipeline around the world fell in 2021, according to a study published Tuesday, but the fossil fuel most responsible for global warming still generated record CO2 emissions, threatening Paris climate targets.
Since the 195-nation treaty was signed in 2015, coal-fired power capacity under construction or planned for development has fallen by three-quarters, including a 13% year-on-year decline in 2021 to 457 gigawatts (GW ).
Globally, there are more than 2,400 coal-fired power plants in operation in 79 countries, with a total capacity of 2,100 GW.
According to the annual Global Energy Monitor, Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, a record 34 countries are considering new coal plants, up from 41 in January 2021.
China, Japan and South Korea – all historic funders of coal development outside their borders – have pledged to stop funding new coal plants in other countries, although concerns remain about possible flaws in China’s engagement.
And yet, the world’s operational coal-fired power fleet grew in 2021 by 18 GW, and as of December an additional 176 GW of coal capacity was under construction – about the same as the year before.
Most of that growth is in China, which accounts for just over half of the new coal-fired power in the pipeline. South and Southeast Asia are responsible for an additional 37%.
Three-quarters of new coal-fired power plants that opened last year were in China, where newly commissioned capacity offset coal plant shutdowns in all other countries combined.
“The coal plant pipeline is shrinking, but there is simply no more carbon budget to build new coal plants,” said Flora Champenois of Global Energy Monitor. “We have to stop now.”
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have warned that having a chance of limiting global warming to livable levels means there is no will be no new coal-fired power plants and a rapid phase-out of existing power plants.
Rich countries must do so by 2030 and most of the rest of the world by 2040, they said.
Many emerging economies – India, Vietnam, Bangladesh – have scaled back plans for new coal capacity.
“In China, plans for new coal-fired power plants continued to be announced,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research and co-author of the report.
By far the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, China has pledged to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060.
In the United States, efforts to reduce coal use have slowed, according to the report.
The amount of coal capacity in the United States retired in 2021 has decreased for the second consecutive year, from 16.1 GW in 2019 to 11.6 GW in 2020, to approximately 6.4 to 9.0 GW in the year last.
To meet its own climate goals, the United States would need to withdraw 25 GW per year by 2030.
The European Union withdrew a record 12.9 GW in 2021, including 5.8 GW in Germany, 1.7 GW in Spain and 1.9 GW in Portugal, which went coal-free in November 2021, nine years before its target elimination date.