The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that no new fossil fuel infrastructure — including new coal mines and plants — can be built after 2021 if the world is to limit global warming to the Paris agreement reach goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Despite this, nearly 500 coal companies are still planning either new mines or power plants, according to data released by German NGO Urgewald and 40 partner organizations Thursday.
“Out of the 1,064 companies in our database, 490 are developing new coal power plants, new coal mines, or new coal transport infrastructure,” Urgewald Director Heffa Schuecking said in a press release announcing the new data. “Pursuing new coal projects in the midst of a climate emergency is reckless, irresponsible behavior. Investors, banks, and insurers should ban these coal developers from their portfolios immediately.”
The new data is part of the 2022 update to the Global Coal Exit List (GCEL), a project of Urgewald and its partner NGOs that it says is “the world’s most comprehensive public database on the coal industry.” It keeps tabs on more than 1,000 companies and more than 1,800 subsidiaries involved in the thermal coal value chain. The update found that 46 percent of coal companies were still expanding. New mining projects could increase coal production by 37 percent. There are also an additional 476 gigawatts of coal-power capacity in development, which would increase capacity by 23 percent.
All of this comes despite the fact that world leaders agreed at the end of last year’s COP26 climate conference in Glasgow to “accelerate efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal.” Yet this lack of progress is in keeping with past responses to climate agreements. Schuecking told CNBC that global coal plant capacity had increased by around 157 gigawatts since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, which is the same capacity as the combined coal fleets of Germany, Russia, Japan and Poland.
Coal is the most carbon intensive of all of the fossil fuels. A 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined that the burning of coal for energy needs to decline by 78 percent by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degree Celisus target, according to the GCEL. Further, to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the IEA said that developed countries needed to retire their coal plants by 2030 and developing countries by 2040, the press release said. But very few companies are acting in line with these targets.
“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 in the press release. “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.”
The update found only 56 companies, or 5.3 percent of the total, had announced any coal exit date, but most of those dates were far too late to meet climate targets. Only 27 companies, or 2.5 percent, had announced exit dates in keeping with international goals, but there was a catch.
“When we took a detailed look at these 27 companies’ transition plans, we saw that most of them are simply planning to convert their coal plants to gas or to sell them instead of retiring them,” Schuecking said. “At the end of the day, we only identified 5 companies with coal transition plans that could be considered Paris-aligned.”
The majority of the new mining projects being planned were in China, India, Australia, Russia and South Africa, The Guardian reported. Coal India was the world’s largest mine developer, but the largest number of new coal mining projects were planned for China, the update found.
China was also the country that had the most new coal plants planned, making it responsible for 61 percent of new capacity in the works. The four companies planning the most new plant development were also all Chinese.
“The world welcomed President Xi Jinping’s 2021 announcement that China 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,” coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development Lidy Nacpil said in the press release.
The ban on overseas coal plants has also been imperfectly implemented, with only 13 gigawatts officially abandoned so far.
The U.S. was also not off the hook, as it has the world’s third-largest coal plant fleet at nearly 218 gigawatts of capacity. It is also lagging behind countries like Italy, France and the UK in that it has not set a national coal-power phaseout date and had only retired 8.4 gigawatts of capacity as of 2021.