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Report: New coal plants could thwart global warming solution

Even current coal production remains higher than the two-degree pathway requires.

By
Brooks Hays
A power plant operates under heavy pollution in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, on July 1, 2012. Leading respiratory disease specialists warn that air pollution could become China's biggest health threat and warns of dire consequences if the government fails to monitor and publicize the dangers of smog. UPI/Stephen Shaver
A power plant operates under heavy pollution in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province, on July 1, 2012. Leading respiratory disease specialists warn that air pollution could become China's biggest health threat and warns of dire consequences if the government fails to monitor and publicize the dangers of smog. UPI/Stephen Shaver | License Photo

PARIS, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- According to a new report, there are currently 2,440 active plans for new coal plants around the world.

As world leaders, diplomats, policy makers and activists gather in Paris to build a solution to the problem of climate change, these new coal plants threaten to undo any potential progress.

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The research group Climate Action Tracker presented a report on future coal emissions to the Paris Climate Summit on Tuesday. If all current coal plant plans come to fruition, report authors warn, greenhouse gas emissions from coal power would be 400 percent more than levels required by the United Nations' aims to keep global warming beneath the 2 degree Celsius threshold.

Despite the enormity of the problem, the solution isn't all that complicated.

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"There is a solution to this issue of too many coal plants on the books: cancel them," Pieter Van Breevoort, a consultant with climate policy group Ecofys, said in a press release. "Renewable energy and stricter pollution standards are making coal plants obsolete around the world, and the earlier a coal plant is taken out of the planning process, the less it will cost."

Most experts don't expect all these coal plants to be built. Strengthened environmental regulations and improvements in renewable energy technologies have made coal less and less profitable in developed countries, and most analysts believe these trends will continue.

"If renewables take off as fast as is currently expected, many of these planned coal plants could be stranded investments or would have to operate under difficult financial circumstances," said Markus Hagemann of NewClimate Institute.

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But even if no new coal plants are built, Climate Action Tracker's new report suggests current coal production remains higher than the two-degree pathway requires.

Emissions from coal plants in India, China, Indonesia and the European Union will threaten the aims of their national carbon cutting plans -- plans intended to meet warming limits of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

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"Even electricity production from existing coal plants far exceed the range of such scenarios," added Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics. "At the same time, we know that emerging economies like India would see so many co-benefits from reducing air pollution and other health issues its people are suffering from."

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