The Coal Gap: planned coal-fired power plants inconsistent with 2°C and threaten achievement of INDCs

30th November 2015


Paris – 1 December 2015-- If all coal plants in the pipeline were to be built, by 2030, emissions from coal power would be 400% higher than what is consistent with a 2°C pathway, according to a new analysis released by the Climate Action Tracker at the Paris Climate Summit today.

Even with no new construction, in 2030, emissions from coal-fired power generation would still be more than 150% higher than what is consistent with holding warming below 2°C.

Using data from CoalSwarm’s updated Global Coal Plant Tracker, (1) the CAT has calculated the effect on global emissions from coal-fired power, comparing the compatibility of projected coal power production with 2°C and 1.5°C pathways, as well as current policy scenario pathways.

There are 2440 planned coal plants around the world (2), totalling 1428GW, which could emit approximately 16–18 percent of the total allowed emissions in 2030 (under a 2°C-compatible scenario, medium range).  

Including existing capacity with a technical lifetime beyond 2030, total emissions from coal-fired power generation could reach 12 GtCO2 in 2030.

Despite the need to phase out emissions from coal-fired power generation to hold warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, many governments - and the EU28 - are still planning to construct significant amounts of coal power capacity. In many emerging economies, coal capacity is constructed to meet rapidly increasing electricity demand, while in the EU28, new coal plants are mainly to replace existing capacity.

The CAT also looked at the eight countries that plan to build more than 5GW of capacity:  China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines, Turkey – as well as the EU28. (3)  

“There is a solution to this issue of too many coal plants on the books:  cancel them,” said Pieter Van Breevoort, of Ecofys.  “Renewable energy and stricter pollution standards are making coal plants obsolete around the world, and the earlier a coal plant is taken out of the planning process, the less it will cost.”

Markus Hagemann of NewClimate Institute said the decreasing costs of renewable energy were likely to play a big factor in decisions on future coal plants.

“It is unlikely that all of these planned coal plants are going to be built, especially when low carbon alternatives are reaching price parity. If renewables take off as fast as is currently expected, many of these planned coal plants could be stranded investments or would have to operate under difficult financial circumstances.”

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, pointed out that in order to stay within the agreed 2 degree warming limit, a rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector was required.

“More than 100 countries are calling for the Paris agreement to reference warming limits of 1.5°C.  Yet even electricity production from existing coal plants far exceed the range of such scenarios.  At the same time, we know that emerging economies like India would see so many co-benefits from reducing air pollution and other health issues its people are suffering from.”  

(1) The coal plant tracker’s statistics were updated on 14 November

(2) “Planned” includes coal-fired plants that have been announced, in pre-permit phase, permitted, or under construction.

(3) This doesn’t include the US as it only plans to expand coal capacity by 3.5GW.