Rich nations stick to coal phase-out as China builds new plants

LONDON/SHARM EL-SHEIKH — Rich nations have stuck to pledges to phase out coal power despite the energy crunch in the wake of the Ukraine war but China’s expanding coal fleet risks counteracting the climate impact of the closures, a report said on Tuesday. 

Countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) policy forum and the European Union are on track to close more than 75% of their coal power capacity from 2010 to 2030, the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) said. 

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning coal are the single biggest contributor to climate change. Weaning the world off coal is considered vital to achieving global climate targets, but coal is also the single biggest fuel to make electricity. 

While some countries such as Britain and Germany have delayed the closure of coal plants this winter due to concerns over Russian energy supplies, overall phase-out dates remained intact, according to the report released to coincide with the COP27 climate summit of world leaders in Egypt. 

This year’s conference has seen the chiefs of big gas firms, previously ostracized at COP meetings, tout their product as a cleaner alternative to coal in an energy-constrained world. 

“Accelerated retirements (of coal plants) within the OECD and the collapse in the scale of new project proposals in the rest of the world have been counteracted by the ongoing expansion of the coal fleet in China,” said the PPCA, an international campaign aimed at phasing out the fuel. 

China has pledged to bring the country’s carbon emissions to a peak by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. On Monday, China said it did not oppose mentioning 1.5 degrees Celsius as a goal for limiting global warming. But China’s climate envoy, Xei Zhenhua, said last week the country would need to retain some coal plants to maintain the stability of its power grid. 

There are still plans for almost 300 gigawatts (GW) of new coal power capacity globally with around two-thirds of this slated to be built in China, the report showed. 

The emissions from existing coal plants alone would tip the world across the 1.5°C limit with global coal demand stable near record highs for the past decade, the International Energy Agency said in a report also released on Tuesday. 

The transition away from coal-fired power generation will be especially hard in Indonesia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, India and South Africa, the IEA said, calling for a massive increase in financing to move poorer countries away from coal. — Reuters