Coal still generating record CO2 emissions, study finds

Coal still generating record CO2 emissions, study finds

/ Policy & Regulations / Tuesday, 26 April 2022 07:45

Coal, the fossil fuel most responsible for global warming still generated record CO2 emissions, threatening Paris climate goals, a recent research has found. The worldwide operational fleet of coal-fired power grew in 2021 by 18 GW, and as of December an additional 176 GW of coal capacity was under construction – about the same as the year before.

Most of that growth is in China, which accounts for just over half of new coal-fired power in the pipeline. South and Southeast Asia are responsible for another 37%.

Three-quarters of the new coal power plants that broke ground last year were in China, where newly commissioned capacity offset coal plant retirements in all other nations combined.

According to the annual Global Energy Monitor report, Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline, however, the number of coal-fired power plants in the pipeline worldwide declined in 2021. Since the 195-nation treaty was inked in 2015, coal power capacity under construction or slated for development has dropped by three-quarters, including a 13%  year-on-year decrease in 2021 to 457 gigawatts (GW).

Globally, there are more than 2,400 coal-fired power plants operating in 79 countries, with a total capacity of 2,100 GW. A record-low 34 countries have new coal plants under consideration, down from 41 in January 2021, the research reveals.

China, Japan and South Korea –all historical backers of coal development outside their borders—have  pledged to stop funding new coal plants in other countries, though there remain concerns about possible loopholes in China's commitment.


The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have warned that having a fighting chance of capping global warming at liveable levels means no new coal plants and a rapid phase-out of existing ones. Rich countries must do so by 2030 and most of the rest of the world by 2040, they said. Many emerging economies – India, Vietnam, Bangladesh – have cut back on plans for new coal-fired capacity.

By far the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, China has vowed to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2060. In the United States, efforts to curtail coal use have slowed, the report showed.

The amount of US coal capacity retired in 2021 declined for the second year in a row, from 16.1 GW in 2019, to 11.6 GW in 2020, to an estimated 6.4 to 9.0 GW last year. To meet its own climate goals, the United States would need to retire 25 GW annually between now and 2030.

The European Union retired a record 12.9 GW in 2021, including 5.8 GW in Germany, 1.7 GW in Spain and 1.9 GW in Portugal, which became coal-free in November 2021 – nine years before its target phase-out date.

Renewables growth

Separately,  by the end of 2021, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 3,064 gigawatts (GW), increasing the stock of renewable power by 9.1%, the Renewable Capacity Statistics 2022 report has revealed. According to IRENA, most of the new renewable capacity in 2021 was added in Asia, with 1.46 Terawatt (TW) accounting for 60% of new capacity. China was the biggest contributor, adding 121 GW to the continent’s new capacity.

Europe had the second-largest increased renewable capacity, adding 39 GW, while North America – led by the US – was a close third with 38 GW. South America had the fourth-highest capacity increase, amounting to 15.5 GW.

Africa’s renewable capacity grew by 3.9% while Central America and the Caribbean had an increase of 3.3%. The Middle East region recorded 4.5% growth, with a 1 GW increase in renewable sources.

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