Coal plant plans raise climate risk

COP21: As some of the world’s political leaders strive to save the planet from overheating, others still see increased coal burning as the answer to their future energy needs.

More than 2,400 coal power plants already under construction or planned will have to be cancelled if the planet is not to overheat by more than 2˚C, according to an analysis released at the COP21 climate summit in Paris.

Even if existing plants are allowed to continue producing electricity beyond 2030 until the end of their technical lifetimes, the world will reach temperatures that risk runaway climate change, says the report by Climate Action Tracker (CAT).

The report assessed the impact of planned new coal plants globally, and found that the several of the 28 European Union members states (EU28) planned to replace existing coal stations with new ones.

The EU 28 and eight large countries assessed − China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines and Turkey – that each plan to build new plants will together add nearly half the world’s total – 2,011 power stations.

Plans undermined

The report makes clear that the efforts of the 195 countries meeting in Paris to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will be undermined unless plans to replace old coal plants with new ones are scrapped.

This week, political leaders of larger nations have again committed to keeping the global temperature below 2˚C, while more than 100 of the smaller more vulnerable states have demanded a more ambitious target of 1.5˚C limit.

But neither will be achieved unless energy policies change. To achieve the 2˚C limit, all coal-fired stations will have to be closed by 2050, according to the report.

Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, said it was clear that 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 degrees,” Hare said. “Yet even electricity production from existing coal plants far exceeds 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.”

Pieter Van Breevoort, a sustainable energy expert at the Ecofys consultancy, agreed that the only solution to the problem was to cancel the plans to build new coal plants. He said: “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.”

The CAT report was not the only one to attack plans for burning more coal. A research paper published by Energy & Resource Insights (ERI) criticised the Australian government for approving the huge Adani Carmichael mine in Australia to feed the planned plants.

Unprecedented scale

If fuel mined in this area next to the Great Barrier Reef was burned in the world’s power stations it would dwarf the efforts of other countries to reduce emissions, said the report’s author, ERI principal researcher Adam Walters.

He said the Carmichael mine, which is of a scale unprecedented within Australia’s existing seaborne coal export industry, “is a climate wrecking ball, generating 120 million tonnes per annum of greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the world is headed for a dangerous temperature rise of 3.6˚C by 2100, based on current policies.

“Carmichael, with its associated rail and port infrastructure, will enable the development of multiple other mines proposed for the so far unexploited Galilee Basin, creating a combined production capacity that could more than double Australia’s thermal coal exports.

“It is difficult to reconcile the Australian government’s decision to back the Carmichael mine with the gravity of the need to curb global emissions and the accepted principle of precaution in environmental decision-making,” he said. 

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