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Global Energy Monitor: the world is not retiring existing coal plants fast enough

The Global Energy Monitor’s ninth annual survey of the world’s current and planned coal plants reveals that while the numbers of both had fallen over the last 12 months, they need to fall a great deal faster.

The most significant problem is the amount of capacity China have planned, which in itself negates the progress of the rest of the world.

power plant during daytime

The report states that coal power capacity retirements was 26 gigawatts (GW) in 2022, and another 25 GW will be retired by 2030. The amount of planned coal-fired capacity in developing countries fell by 23 GW but China’s planned capacity increased by 126 GW. 

The GEM conclude that although planned coal power capacity has declined significantly, plants need to be closed four and a half times faster, specifying that all existing coal plants must be retired by 2030 in the world’s richest countries, and by 2040 across the world. This obviously assumes that  no new coal capacity will come online. 

The survey’s key findings are:

  • Globally, the operating coal fleet grew by 19.5 GW, or less than 1%, in 2022. More than half (59%) of the 45.5 GW of newly commissioned capacity was in China, with 14 countries in total adding new coal power. Outside China, the global coal fleet continued to shrink, although at a slower rate than in previous years.
  • Total coal power capacity under development – including pre-construction and construction stages – has remained relatively level since 2019 after a significant collapse from highs in 2014. The figure hit a record low of 479 GW in 2021, but inched back up to 537 GW in 2022, a 12% one-year increase led by China. 
  • After the European Union retired a record high of 14.6 GW of coal capacity in 2021, the gas crisis and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a slowdown in coal retirements, with only 2.2 GW retired in the last year. Temporary restarts and extensions are generally expected to wind down in the next few years, and what appeared to be a spike in coal capacity added only 1% to total EU coal generatio,ed momentum away from coal needs to accelerate.
  • India sent mixed signals regarding its future coal use. The country has 28.5 GW of coal power capacity planned, up 2.6 GW in 2022, and 32 GW of coal power capacity under construction.

Flora Champenois, lead author of the report and project manager for Global Energy Monitor’s Global Coal Plant Tracker said: ‘The more new coal projects come online, the steeper the cuts and commitments need to be in the future. At this rate, the transition away from existing and new coal isn’t happening fast enough to avoid climate chaos. The IPCC and the UN have both renewed the marching order to wind down coal power globally in what may be our last chance to avoid the worst of a warming planet’s harms.’

Lauri Myllyvirta, the lead analyst for Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air added: ‘Progress in retiring coal power plants in rich countries and cancelling new coal power projects in developing countries, despite the gas crunch that shook global energy markets in 2022, is encouraging. Outside of China, the response to the energy crisis was dominated by investment in clean energy. However, that progress urgently needs to be accelerated. China pulled in the opposite direction, sharply increasing planned coal power capacity, showing the need to deploy clean solutions and better enforcement of existing policies that should restrict new coal power projects.’

 

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