Coal plants need an early retirement to achieve Paris climate targets: report

Coal plants need an early retirement to achieve Paris climate targets: report

By Luke Vargas   
Courtesy: UNFCCC
Courtesy: UNFCCC

Expected emissions from the world’s energy and transport infrastructure are enough to overshoot the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

NEW YORK – Emissions already locked in by the world’s existing infrastructure are enough to overshoot the “carbon diet” needed to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

Christine Shearer is a researcher with Global Energy Monitor, which tracks fossil fuel infrastructure, and was a co-author of the new research published this week in the journal Nature.

“What if you take everything that emits carbon dioxide on the planet right now – all the world’s power plants, industrial plants, cars, planes – If you use all of this at an average rate over an average lifetime, how much carbon dioxide emissions would they emit?”

Diplomats set two targets in the Paris Agreement – to stop global warming at 2°C (3.6°F) and, more ambitiously, at 1.5°C (2.7°F), if possible.

Unfortunately, the planet’s carbon diet will make hitting either goal a struggle.

“It is already over the carbon budget for 1.5°C, and in fact if you add proposed power plants we are two-thirds of the way there for 2°C.”

“We’re finding that the infrastructure that we already have is not compatible with what was agreed to in Paris, and will have to be retired early or used at a much lower rate.”

Closing coal plants and stopping construction of new ones sounds daunting. After all, most coal plants run for 40 years, and countries like China and India have hundreds of plants less than 15 years old. But Shearer says the market could have the final say.

Building new solar and wind plants is already cheaper than building a new coal plant, and soon, even maintaining an existing coal plant could become a losing proposition.

“In India, for example, now they have pollution standards. They’re going to have to retrofit these plants with expensive pollution equipment. And so there gets to be a point and it varies by country, but it looks like it’s going to be within the decade that it will actually be cheaper to build new solar and wind than it will be to simply operate an already-existing coal plant.”

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