Climate targets see fewer new coal power plants being built worldwide, despite post-Covid jump in use

A post covid-19 demand for energy and slow-down in power plant shutdowns saw worldwide coal use increase by nearly 10 per cent in 2021, according to the latest international figures.

However, the total capacity of new coal plants being developed fell by 13 per cent to a record low level last year.

The findings come from a new report from Global Energy Monitor, which shows capacity for planned schemes went down from 525GW in 2020 to 457GW in 2021.

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The drop comes following an increase in 2020 – the first since 2015.

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The report shows the number of countries pursuing new coal power fell from 41 to 34, with more than half – 56 per cent – of the 45GW of newly commissioned capacity in China.

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The findings have been published less than six months after nearly 200 countries signed the historic Glasgow Pact at the UN COP26 climate summit, pledging to “phase-down” coal use in a bid to slash environmentally damaging greenhouse gas emissions.

China, South Korea, and Japan notably pledged to stop funding new coal plants in other countries, but data shows China continued to lead all countries in domestic development of new coal plants, commissioning more new capacity than the rest of the world combined.

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The iconic 600ft chimney at Longannet -- Scotland's last operational coal-fired power station -- had dominated the Firth of Forth skyline for more than 50 years, before it was demolished following the plant's closure in 2016. Picture: Michael Gillen

Earlier this month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a damning new report which showed there is no carbon budget left to accommodate new coal plants.

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Experts agreed that a 75 per cent cut in coal use – based on 2019 levels – is required by 2030 to limit global temperature rise to the 1.5C limit set out in the Paris Agreement.

Overall, there has been a 77 per cent reduction in coal plant capacity in pre-construction since the climate treaty was signed in 2015.

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But experts have warned that faster action to reduce emissions and end fossil fuel use is needed to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate warming.

“The coal plant pipeline is shrinking, but there is simply no carbon budget left to be building new coal plants,” said Global Energy Monitor’s Flora Champenois.

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“We need to stop now.”

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