World’s coal power capacity rises despite climate warnings

<span>About two coal plants a week should be retired to limit global heating, say experts.</span><span>Photograph: Mike Stewart/AP</span>
About two coal plants a week should be retired to limit global heating, say experts.Photograph: Mike Stewart/AP

The world’s coal power capacity grew for the first time since 2019 last year, despite warnings that coal plants need to close at a rate of at least 6% each year to avoid a climate emergency.

A report by Global Energy Monitor found that coal power capacity grew by 2% last year, driven by an increase in new coal plants across China and a slowdown of plant closures in Europe and the US.

About 69.5 gigawatts (GW) of coal plant capacity came online last year, of which two-thirds were built in China, according to the report. There were also plants built in Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, Greece and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, a slowdown in coal plant shutdowns in the US and Europe led to more than 21GW retiring last year. This resulted in a net annual increase of almost 48.5GW for the year, the highest since 2016.

The authors of the report said coal plants needed to shut at a faster pace, and that China needed to adopt stricter controls on its expansion of capacity.

Flora Champenois, a Global Energy Monitor analyst, said: “Otherwise we can forget about meeting our goals in the Paris agreement and reaping the benefits that a swift transition to clean energy will bring,.”

Climate scientists have said all coal plants should be shut by 2040 – unless they are fitted with effective carbon-removal technology – if governments hope to limit global heating to within 1.5C of pre-industrialised levels.

This would require an average of 126GW of coal plants to retire from the current fleet of 2,130GW every year for the next 17 years, according to the report, or the equivalent of about two plants a week.

Champenois described last year’s coal plant expansion as an “anomaly” as more signs point to it “reversing course”. “But countries that have coal plants to retire need to do so more quickly, and countries that have plans for new coal plants must make sure these are never built.”

Research by Capital Economics suggests China’s appetite for coal power may reduce as low-carbon options accelerate.

The report found that a resurgence in hydropower this year, combined with China’s expansion of wind, solar and nuclear power, could mark the start of a steady decline in its coal demand.

Coal plant retirements were expected to pick up speed across Europe and the US this year, and fewer countries were beginning construction of new plants, Champenois said.

The report found that construction started on less than 4GW of new projects outside China last year, a quarter of the annual average between 2015 and 2022 for the same set of countries.