Percent of 2030 (I)NDC pledges (upper bound estimates) decomposed into different (potential) emission sources, including infrastructure in the power sector planned, existing, or under construction. Countries selected are those with the highest investment in forthcoming coal power capacity (either under construction or planned), accounting for at least 5% of resulting emissions on the global scale. The emissions shown here would accrue if all coal capacity either under construction or planned would be online in 2030. All power plants built before 1990 are assumed to be offline by 2030. Graphic: Edenhofer, et al., 2018 / Environmental Research Letters

By Chris Mooney
7 February 2018

(The Washington Post) – The much-heralded demise of the coal industry may be overstated, a new scientific analysis asserts — finding that if all planned plants were constructed, the world would have little chance of meeting its climate change goals.

The new study, by Ottmar Edenhofer of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin, and three colleagues, finds that nations including Turkey, Vietnam, and Indonesia could increase their emissions from coal dramatically between now and 2030, based on current plans.

In combination with already existing infrastructure, these planned or in-construction plants, if run for a standard plant lifetime, could burn up much of the remaining carbon budget for holding Earth’s temperature increase below two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the research concludes.

“The main message is that when we continue with the existing coal fired power plants, and build the new ones, we are closing the door to the 2 degree target,” Edenhofer said. The research was published in Environmental Research Letters, with co-authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Technical University of Berlin.

The study is based on a concept of “lock-in” or “committed” emissions: Once a coal plant is completed and put into service, the thinking goes, it’s likely to operate for long time to justify the cost of the investment.

And based on an analysis of global coal plans, the research finds that five countries — India, China, Turkey, Vietnam, and Indonesia — are home to “nearly three quarters (73 percent) of the global coal-fired capacity that is currently under construction or planned.” Vietnam, if plans are carried forward, could see 948 percent growth in coal emissions, the research asserts, by 2030.

But even as this is happening, the study notes that we have only about 700 billion tons of carbon dioxide that can still be emitted, after the year 2016, to preserve good odds of holding the temperature increase below two degrees Celsius. Existing coal plants and other infrastructure are capable of consuming 500 billion tons on their own, assuming we use them until they are worn out. [more]

If the world builds every coal plant that’s planned, climate change goals are doomed, scientists say


Committed emissions to the atmosphere decomposed into contributions of coal (existing, under construction and planned) and other economic sectors for different regions (region categorization RC5 as defined in the IPCC AR5); uncertainty ranges indicate differing lifetimes (30 yrs–50 yrs) and coal fired power plants' capacity factors (37%–80%); emission factors are specific to the power plants. 'All sectors w/o coal' only includes committed emissions for infrastructures that has been constructed before 2010 as calculated by Davis et al. For the calculation of 'all sectors' medium lifetimes of infrastructure as reported by Davis et al were assumed. Graphic: Edenhofer, et al., 2018 / Environmental Research Letters

ABSTRACT: We estimate the cumulative future emissions expected to be released by coal power plants that are currently under construction, announced, or planned. Even though coal consumption has recently declined and plans to build new coal-fired capacities have been shelved, constructing all these planned coal-fired power plants would endanger national and international climate targets. Plans to build new coal-fired power capacity would likely undermine the credibility of some countries' (Intended) Nationally Determined Contributions submitted to the UNFCCC. If all the coal-fired power plants that are currently planned were built, the carbon budget for reaching the 2 °C temperature target would nearly be depleted. Propositions about “coal's terminal decline” may thereby be premature. The phase-out of coal requires dedicated and well-designed policies. We discuss the political economy of policy options that could avoid a continued build-up of coal-fired power plants.

Reports of coal's terminal decline may be exaggerated

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