Coal development down, but not enough

Global coal plant capacity under development shrank 13 per cent in 2021, according to Global Energy Monitor’s eighth annual survey of the coal plant pipeline, but steeper cuts are needed to achieve climate goals.

GEM's Boom and Bust Coal 2022 report finds that after rising in 2020 for the first time since 2015, total coal power capacity under development declined last year, from 525GW to 457GW, a record low. 34 countries have new coal plants under consideration, down from 41 countries in January 2021.

But that still leaves more than 2,400 coal-fired power plants operating in 79 countries, for a total of nearly 2,100GW of capacity. An additional 176 GW of coal capacity is under construction at more than 189 plants, and 280GW is in pre-construction at 296 plants. In 2021, the operating coal fleet grew by a net 18.2GW, a post-Covid rebound in a year that saw a slowdown in coal plant retirements.

Japan, South Korea, and China all pledged to end public support for new international coal plants, followed by a commitment from all G20 countries ahead of COP26. With these pledges, there is essentially no significant international public financier remaining for new coal plants.

In 2021, the amount of US coal capacity that retired declined for the second consecutive year, from 16.1GW in 2019, to 11.6GW in 2020, to an estimated 6.4GW to 9GW in 2021. To meet national energy and climate goals, continued momentum away from coal needs to accelerate.

The EU states retired a record 12.9GW in 2021, with the most retirements in Germany (5.8GW), Spain (1.7GW), and Portugal (1.9GW). Portugal became coal free in November 2021, nine years before its targeted 2030 phase-out date. The UK has already pledged to end its use of coal-fired power by October 2024.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also highlighted the EU vulnerabilities due to its reliance on coal, oil, and gas imports from Russia. The results of this might also see short term reversal in the decline of coal use, but even then, it is likely to have the consequence of a longer-term adoption of renewable sources.

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