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Coal Binge Puts Paris Climate Targets Further Out of Reach, Study Finds



By Peter Hannam

October 9, 2018 - The capacity of the world's coal-fired power stations would increase by a third if all 1380 plants planned or under development are built, making it tougher to meet Paris climate goals, a leading German non-profit group says.

Plants will be built in 16 nations that do not currently generate electricity from coal, while 11 other countries now have just 600 megawatts of capacity or less. All up, the projects would add more than 672 gigawatts of capacity, according to Urgewald's Coal Exit survey.


On a roll: Chinese companies are stepping up their development of coal plants outside China.

Photo by New York Times

In a sign national promises to cut greenhouse gas emissions aren't being matched by action, a net 92 gigawatts in new coal plant capacity has been added since the Paris climate accord was signed in 2015. That's an increase equivalent to the combined fleets of Russia and Japan, or about four times Australia's total.

"We need to be getting on a track to phase out coal – everybody knows it," Heffa Schuecking, Urgewald's director, told Fairfax Media. "The next decade is going to be decisive."

The research, including a list of the 120 top coal developers, comes just days before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its study on the impacts of 1.5 degrees of global warming. The planet has warmed about 1.1 degrees since pre-industrial times, with coal and other fossil fuel combustion cited as a key driver.

The coal boom is underway despite a growing number of financial groups and investors ditching the sector. Two big South Korean pensions funds with $31 billion in assets on Thursday joined an exodus that has lately included Japanese giants such Marubeni.

The void, though, is partly being filled by Chinese state-owned developers such as the National Energy Investment Group and China Huadian group, which are being backed export finance banks.

Those two alone account for about 63 gigawatts, while India's National Thermal Power Corp is the third-largest developer with about 25 gigawatts in the pipeline, Urgewald said.


Coal developers are looking to build plants near coal mines, particularly in Africa, potentially locking in demand for decades.

Photo by BHP Billiton

Many of the new plants will be in developing nations, particularly African nations such as Tanzania which has large coal deposits of its own.

While those nations desperately need access to low-cost electricity, the plunging cost of renewable energy such as solar power is fast becoming a cheaper and more climate-friendly option, Ms Schuecking said.

Many of the plants could become stranded assets if economics alone were at play. The creation, though, of new coal-related jobs and vested interests of investors may put a handbrake on a future transition out of fossil fuels.


"It's not as if they are stranded automatically," Ms Schuecking said. "There will be huge fights in those societies when they will close."