A new report has concluded that even the most efficient coal plants are incompatible with global climate change goals.
With world leaders heading to New York to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement, a new report conducted by Ecofys and commissioned by WWF has concluded that any level of coal-fired power generation will tilt the world off-course from the internationally agreed-upon target of keeping temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
“The future of coal-fired power plants, even of ‘efficient’ ones, looks bleak due to the drastic CO2 emission reductions in the power sector that are needed to limit the global average temperature rise to well below 2°C, let alone the 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris,” said David de Jager, Principal Consultant at Ecofys.
“This report discredits claims from the coal industry and governments such as those of Japan, Germany, South Korea, Australia, and Poland that efficient coal plants are compatible with climate action,” added Sebastien Godinot, Economist at WWF’s European Policy Office. “It is clear that in a post-Paris world, there is quite simply no role for coal, however ‘efficient’.”
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessment of various global emissions scenarios, the global electricity sector needs to be decarbonized by 2050 in order to meet commitments to keep temperature rise “to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.” Some governments and the coal industry itself have publicized the possibility that high-efficient low-emission (HELF) coal-fired plants are one way the energy sector could move towards near-zero emissions, while still maintaining the use of coal.
However, according to the new Ecofys study, “HELF coal-fired electricity generation is incompatible with the goal to keep temperature rise under 2°C.” Specifically, according to the report’s authors, “The global carbon budget and the time remaining to reduce greenhouse gas emissions simply do not allow for replacement of retired coal plants with new more efficient coal plants, let alone capacity expansions.” As such, WWF has concluded and immediately called on governments to end public financial support for coal, and to phase out all coal plants by 2035 in OECD countries and 2050 globally.
HELF technologies could reduce emissions — of that there is little doubt. The report claims that HELF technologies for coal-fired power generation could reduce emissions from over 1,000 gCO2/kWh for current operational coal plants, down to 670 gCO2/kWh for future “most efficient” coal plants. However, even that compares unfavorably with 350-490 gCO2/kWh for gas turbines or 0 gCO2/kWh direct emissions for wind and solar power. On top of that, there is currently 1,400 GW of additional coal capacity currently planned, and even if this whole figure was built using HELF technologies, it would still push the 2°C beyond reach.
“With the G7 meeting in Japan, some of the biggest coal nations have a unique opportunity to begin to phase out coal subsidies and coal use,” concluded Godinot.