Current pledges to phase out coal power are critically insufficient to slow climate change

coal plant
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The Powering Past Coal Alliance, or PPCA, is a coalition of 30 countries and 22 cities and states, that aims to phase out unabated coal power. But analysis led by Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, published in Nature Climate Change, shows that members mainly pledge to close older plants near the end of their lifetimes, resulting in limited emissions reductions. The research also shows that expansion of the PPCA to major coal consuming countries would face economic and political difficulties.

By analysing a worldwide database of coal , the researchers have shown that pledges from PPCA members will result in a reduction of about 1.6 gigatonnes of CO2 from now until 2050. This represents only around 1/150th of projected CO2 emissions over the same time period from all coal power plants which are already operating globally.

"To keep global warming below 1.5°C, as aimed for in the Paris climate agreement, we need to phase-out unabated coal power—that is, when the carbon emissions are not captured—by the middle of this century. The Powering Past Coal Alliance is a good start but so far, only which don't use much coal, and some which don't use any coal power, have joined," says Jessica Jewell, assistant professor at the Department of Space, Earth and the Environment at Chalmers University of Technology, and lead researcher on the article.

To investigate the likelihood of expanding the PPCA, Jessica Jewell and her colleagues compared its current members with countries which are not part of the Alliance. They found that PPCA members are wealthy nations with small electricity demand growth, older power plants and low coal extraction and use. Most strikingly, these countries invariably rank higher in terms of government openness and transparency, with democratically elected politicians, independence from private interests and strong safeguards against corruption

These characteristics are dramatically different from major coal users such as China, where electricity demand is rapidly growing, coal power plants are young and responsible for a large share of electricity production, and which ranks lower on government transparency and independence.

The researchers predict therefore, that while countries like Spain, Japan, Germany, and several other smaller European countries may sign up in the near future, countries like China—which alone accounts for about half of all coal power usage worldwide—and India, with expanding electricity sectors and domestic coal mining are unlikely to join the PPCA any time soon.

And recent developments confirm these predictions. Germany recently announced plans to phase out coal power, which could lead to a further reduction of 1.6 gigatonnes of CO2—a doubling of the PPCA's reductions. On the other hand, the U.S. and Australia illustrate the difficulties of managing the coal sector in countries with persistent and powerful mining interests. The recent election in Australia resulted in the victory of a pro-coal candidate, supportive of expanding coal mining and upgrading coal power plants.

More generally, the research suggests that coal phase-out is feasible when it does not incur large-scale losses, such as closing down newly constructed power plants or mines. Moreover, countries need the economic and political capacity to withstand these losses. Germany, for instance, has earmarked 40 billion Euros for compensating affected regions.

"Not all countries have the resources to make such commitments. It is important to evaluate the costs of and capacities for climate action, to understand the political feasibility of climate targets," explains Jessica Jewell.

Explore further

Only eight EU countries to phase out coal by 2030

More information: Prospects for powering past coal, Nature Climate Change (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0509-6,
Journal information: Nature Climate Change

Citation: Current pledges to phase out coal power are critically insufficient to slow climate change (2019, July 1) retrieved 22 August 2019 from
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User comments

Jul 01, 2019
Coal is dead let it rest in peace. That is why President Trump stood behind coal. Why make enemies of voters working in the coal industry if it's going to die anyways?

Jul 01, 2019
if you're worried, plant trees.
Forbid China and India from growing.
Tell your political and social betters to stop flying chartered jets.
Build 100 1000 megawatt fission plants.

And for God's sake, paint all artificial sky facing surfaces a reflective color.

ps. call me when we equal the Holocene Thermal Maximum (which lasted about 4000 years and was +1.5C to 2C hotter than NOW), or when there are dairy farms on Greenland, whichever comes first.

Jul 01, 2019
ps. call me when we equal the Holocene Thermal Maximum (which lasted about 4000 years and was +1.5C to 2C hotter than NOW),

It was 7 degrees C warmer in the Jurassic, and 15 degrees C warmer in the Triassic and further back, with life everywhere. For tens of millions of years.

Jul 01, 2019
I agree except 100 1000 megawatt plants is not enough. The total electricity generated worldwide is ~26,000 TWh's. We need another 1000 one gigawatt Nuclear power plants.

I'm unable to find the percentage of power actually produced by solar and wind.
It's always combined with other renewables, things like geothermal, biomass, dams, etc.
When figures are provided they always talk about peak power not the average power.
If anyone knows the actual power produced by wind and solar it would be interesting to know.
I would guess it's about 1 or 2 percent.

Jul 03, 2019
We cannot afford nuclear power. The V.C. Summer plant was cancelled after wasting over $8,000,000,000!! The new nuclear Vogtle units are already over 15 cents/kWh in cost and they are not even finished yet.

Meanwhile, we have this:

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