According to the German advocacy group Urgewald, nearly half of the coal industry plans to create new projects to use the dirtiest fossil fuel in existence, and many businesses are refusing to retire their assets even as extreme weather events get more severe and frequent all over the world.
According to an annual update released Thursday (October 6, 2022) by Urgewald and 40 partner NGOs, 490 of the 1,064 firms on its Global Coal Exit List were pursuing the construction of new coal mines, power plants, or transportation infrastructure.
It indicates that despite the conclusion of the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow last year, which called for “accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal,” 46% of the corporations polled remain committed to growing.
Less than 3% of those asked, according to the study, which constitutes the largest public database on the coal industry in the world, had stated timely coal exit dates.
“Pursuing new coal projects in the midst of a climate emergency is reckless, irresponsible behavior,” said Heffa Schuecking, director of Urgewald. “Investors, banks, and insurers should ban these coal developers from their portfolios immediately.”
As the fossil fuel with the highest emissions of carbon, coal must be replaced as soon as possible in order to make the switch to renewable energy sources.
Of course, the primary cause of the climate issue is the use of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.
Just recently, China had the worst heatwave in recorded climate history, Europe had its hottest summer in 500 years, and unprecedented floods drowned a third of Pakistan.
In the midst of a sharp decline in Russian gas shipments, some European governments have grudgingly turned to coal to help prevent a winter supply deficit. Moscow has throttled gas supplies amid a bitter energy stand-off provoked by the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.
Clear and near coal exit dates
Speaking ahead of the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh next month, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, “we are in a life-or-death struggle for our own safety today and our survival tomorrow.”
“This is no time for pointing fingers or twiddling thumbs. It is time for a quantum level compromise between developed and emerging economies,” he added.
The NGOs report said there are currently more than 6,500 coal plant units globally with a combined capacity of 2,067 gigawatts. It says that whether humanity is able to keep global heating from surpassing the critical temperature threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius depends “first and foremost on how quickly we phase out this enormous coal plant fleet.”
The historic 2015 Paris Agreement set an aspirational global temperature limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Because of the increased likelihood of so-called tipping points over this level, it is acknowledged as a key global target.
The vast majority of companies on the GCEL still have no intention of retiring the coal assets, which are propelling us towards a breakdown of our climate systems.Heffa Schuecking (Director of Urgewald)
The world’s richest nations must shut down its coal power plants by the end of the decade at the latest, and by 2040 for the rest of the world, according to the IEA’s roadmap to net zero by 2050, which was published in May of last year.
But unlike high-income nations like Italy, France, and the United Kingdom, the United States has not yet established a timeframe for the phase-out of all of its coal power facilities.
“While the warnings issued by IPCC and UNEP become more and more dire from one UN Climate Summit to the next, our data regarding companies’ transition plans remains depressingly consistent,” Schuecking said.
“The vast majority of companies on the GCEL still have no intention of retiring the coal assets, which are propelling us towards a breakdown of our climate systems. A real transition requires clear and near coal exit dates.”
Urgewald’s Schuecking told CNBC that since the 2015 Paris accord was signed, the global coal plant fleet had seen a net increase of roughly 157 gigawatts. That is equal to the combined coal fleets of Germany, Russia, Japan, and Poland.
According to the study, there are still plans for 467 gigawatts of new coal-fired capacity around the world. And, if fulfilled, these projects would expand the world’s existing coal power capacity by 23%.
“Stopping investing in or financing coal developers, that should be a no-brainer. I just don’t see how anyone can be serious about the Paris goals or be an institution that takes climate seriously if you’re still involved with coal developers,” Schuecking said.
China’s coal habit
China was found to be responsible for 61% of all planned coal power capacity additions and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the top four coal plant developers were found to be Chinese companies: China Huaneng Group, China Energy Investment Corporation, China Datang Corporation and China Huadian Corporation.
According to the study, China Energy Investment Corporation produced the most thermal coal in the world last year with 570 million metric tons. Coal India, which generated 557 million tons of thermal coal in 2021, came in second place.
Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, a regional alliance of community organizations and NGOs, said the world welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement last year that Beijing would stop building new coal power plants abroad.
“But China needs to adopt similar measures for its domestic energy system if it wants to become an actor for a 1.5°C world,” Nacpil said.