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New findings affirm the need to phase out coal—even faster—to meet global targets

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Today, the Center for Global Sustainability (CGS) at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy released a new paper in Nature Communications Nature Communications that affirms the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ repeated call to end all construction of new coal power plants by 2020 and accelerate retirement for the current coal fleet, in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals. To limit warming to well-below 2°C, the study finds that even without any new coal power plant construction, existing plants will be stranded—or no longer able to earn an economic return—after operating for 35 years. To limit warming to below 1.5°C, all existing coal plants will need to be retired after 20 years of operation or retrofitted to capture carbon.

During last month’s United Nations Climate Action Summit and Climate Week in New York global climate leadership called for accelerated climate action and rapid decarbonization where the Secretary urged nation leaders to bring forward concrete, actionable plans to raise the ambition of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and to align more closely with 1.5°C—2°C goals. Importantly, Secretary Guterres called for no new coal plants to be built after 2020. 

Strategies for coal retirement will be an essential part of many countries’ NDCs and their actionable plans to reduce emissions at the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Santiago, Chile this December.

“As they stand, countries’ NDCs lack sufficient ambition not only in emissions reductions, but also by allowing near-term investments in coal infrastructure,” explains Dr. Ryna Cui, the lead author of the study, and the lead of the Global Coal Analysis and Policy for Decarbonization Project at CGS. “Each year countries delay their commitment to no new coal, they are squeezing the already short timeline necessary for global coal power plant retirement.”

“Coal power is becoming uncompetitive with low cost renewable energy with 42% of coal plants currently operating at a loss,” remarks CGS Director Nate Hultman, a co-author of the paper. “As countries grapple this year with how to raise climate ambition to reach global goals, it has become crystal clear that rapid coal retirement is a necessary condition for success.” 

“The decline of coal is inevitable. Around the world, we are seeing the tremendous health and economic gains that come with the adoption of safer, cleaner, and cheaper energy sources that will power healthy and equitable communities for future generations,” says Antha Williams, head of Environmental Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Through initiatives like the Beyond Coal campaigns in the U.S. and Europe, which have helped shutter a combined 362 coal plants, we see that the transition away from coal towards cleaner renewable energy sources is diverse, broad, and incredibly powerful.”

“Our study combines a global, plant-by-plant dataset on existing and planned coal units with a state-of-the-art integrated assessment model to comprehensively assess optimal pathways for coal retirement,” says study co-author Dr. Morgan Edwards. “We assess retirement pathways for individual countries and translate the results into an actionable metric—a lifetime limit for coal power plants. This metric also highlights different regional pathways due to large differences in coal fleet’s age structure across countries, where aging units in developed countries shut down first while newer fleets in developing countries have a more gradual retirement. Moreover, if the large number of plants under construction are not cancelled, that further reduces the lifetime limit by five years. If projects in the planning and permitting stages are also implemented, it takes another five years off the lifetime limit.”  

“Successful energy transitions towards low-carbon energy in developing countries are crucial for stabilizing the climate, and based on our analysis, coal power construction must end to protect future generations” says Dr. Cui, “China and other developing countries have much younger coal fleets, and it is impossible to keep those running for more than 40 years like they have been until today. There are some early signs of the trend reversing in China due to successful policies, but such changes need to happen in many more countries and at a faster pace. Our ongoing research will detail how an accelerated coal phaseout in China can be achieved based on multiple technological, economic and environmental criteria, allowing an appropriately paced retirement strategy for individual plants that simultaneously maintain power stability and economic security.” 

Learn more about previous coal analysis at CGS. Read the paper

The Center for Global Sustainability (CGS), based at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, combines analysis with collaborative engagement to support informed policy -- from local to global -- across a range of environmental issues such as climate change, energy, resilience, and finance, in ways that support enhanced ambition and inclusive action. Our research network, international policy expertise, and location in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region ensure that our research has immediate and significant impact on a diverse set of stakeholders and on policy at all governance levels. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Chinese version:


 美国马里兰州,大学公园城,2019年10月18日——今年9月在美国纽约举办的联合国气候行动峰会上,来自全世界的气候领导者都在强烈倡导加强气候行动,提高温室气体减排速度,刻不容缓。现任联合国秘书长安东尼奥·古特雷斯(António Guterres)敦促各国领导人提出切实可行的行动计划,提高国家自主贡献(NDC)的减排雄心,使短期目标更加紧密地契合巴黎协议中2°C甚至1.5°C的长期温控目标。古特雷斯秘书长还特别呼吁:2020年以后全球范围内不再建造新的燃煤电厂。

今天,美国马里兰大学全球可持续发展中心(简称中心,Center for Global Sustainability)在《自然—通讯》发表最新研究,再次确认古特雷斯秘书长的倡导:实现巴黎气候目标需停止新建燃煤电厂,并加快现有机组的退役,缩短其服役年限。研究发现,即使在停止所有拟在建项目的情景下,现役机组也不能运行至将近50年的历史平均水平。如果要将全球平均气温增幅控制在低于2度的水平,所有在役煤电机组需要缩短运行期至35年,已经运行超过35年的机组则需要在短期内立即关停;而如果要实现1.5度的温控目标,所有现役煤电机组则需要进一步缩短运行期,在各自服役满20年后淘汰或进行改造增加碳捕捉与收集(CCS)技术。

即将于今年12月在智利圣地亚哥举行的第25届联合国气候变化缔约方会议(COP25),国家自主贡献(NDC)减排目标应明确煤炭退役计划作为其重要组成部分。“就目前而言,大部分国家自主贡献(NDC)目标仍缺乏减排雄心,部分燃煤电厂的新建并不影响这些短期减排目标的实现,却会让相关国家以至全球严重偏离实现长期温控目标的最佳路径”,本文的第一及通讯作者、中心全球煤炭分析和政策减排项目(简称项目,Global Coal Analysis and Policy for Decarbonization Project)的负责人崔宜筠博士(Ryna Cui)解释到,“留给燃煤电厂退役的时间已经很短,然而继续建造新的煤电项目,所有燃煤电厂的服役期将进一步被压缩。如果拟在建项目按照计划实施,新增装机所带来的资产搁浅风险将影响全球所有机组,仅已开工项目的投产就将额外缩短所有机组5年的服役时间。”

中心主任、文章的共同作者Nate Hultman教授评论到:“由于可再生能源持续降低成本,煤炭发电正变得越来越缺乏竞争力,目前有42%的燃煤电厂处于亏损状态。当决策者考虑未来的能源投资以及它们如何为提高国家自主贡献减排雄心做出贡献时,需要纳入更强有力的计划逐步淘汰燃煤发电,实现能源转型。尽管煤炭仍然是发展中国家能源供给的主要来源,但同时也对经济、环境和气候变化产生了巨大的负面影响。”

 “煤炭消费的下降是大势所趋。全球范围内,我们已经看到使用更安全、更清洁、更便宜的新型能源所带来的巨大的健康和经济收益,这将为子孙后代提供更加健康和公平的环境”, 彭博慈善基金会环境项目的负责人Antha N. Williams女士表示。“在美国和欧洲广泛开展的反煤运动(Beyond Coal)已经累计推动关停362家燃煤电厂,这些成就所展现的从煤炭到清洁可再生能源的转型是广泛的、多样的,并且强大而有力。” 

“这项研究结合了全球厂级数据和全球综合评估模型(Global Change Assessment Model),对长期温控目标下(2度和1.5度)单个燃煤机组的服役年限进行了量化,” 文章的共同作者Morgan Edwards博士说。“这一新的量化指标与投资决策和政策决策更为相关,并凸显了燃煤电厂之间以及国家和地区间退役路径的差异性。位于发达国家的煤电机组普遍老龄化,这意味着,要切实实施1.5度的温控目标,这些地区将需要把大批超过或逼近服役年限(20年)的机组在短期内迅速关停;比如,95%的美国煤电装机和89%的欧盟煤电装机需要在2030年之前退役。”


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Shannon Kennedy
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