Rich countries must close all their coal-fired power plants by 2030 to have a chance of holding global warming to tolerable levels, a report from an environmental research group said.
China would have to phase out the most polluting fossil fuel by 2040 and the rest of the world by 2050, according to Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based non-profit that is studying how nations can meet the emissions goals they agreed at United Nations talks in Paris last year.
The findings in a report released on Monday illustrate the difficulty in achieving the UN goal of holding global warming to well-below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The world already has 8,175 coal plants and is building another 733, providing about 40 of all electricity. Envoys from more than 190 nations are meeting this week and next in Marrakech, Morocco, to discuss how to take forward the ambitions they set out in Paris.
“Both shutting down existing coal and avoiding new coal build is absolutely essential to avoid devastating air pollution and climate impacts,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of the environmental group Greenpeace International.
Pollution from coal plants could create 2.5 times more carbon dioxide emissions than allowed by scenarios consistent with 2 degrees of warming, the report said.
If coal plants remain open, the world would have to rely instead on carbon reduction technologies. Those could include carbon capture and storage. Some scientists have suggested geoengineering may become necessary, requiring man-made steps to change the climate such as pouring nutrients into oceans or spraying tiny particles into the Earth’s atmosphere to reflect sun rays back into space. Such proposals have been shunned because of their unpredictable consequences on global ecosystems.
The Marrakech meeting has been overshadowed by Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. election on Tuesday. The president-elect has said climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and vowed to scrap U.S. participation in the Paris agreement and stimulate coal and production.
Trump may have difficulty reversing coal’s decline as a power generation fuel, since cheap natural gas has cut its market share.
“Although the U.S. election has created short term tailwinds for the coal industry, the medium and long term outlooks point to continued decline,” said Tom Sanzillo, finance director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, an environmental researcher based in Cleveland, Ohio.