China leads global coal power surge as capacity reaches record high

According to a new report from Global Energy Monitor, global coal-power capacity reached a record high last year, driven by a surge in new plants in China and a slowdown in retirements worldwide. This marks the first growth in coal capacity since 2019.

Despite coal's significant greenhouse gas emissions, there's a widespread call for its rapid phase-out as an energy source, with countries globally agreeing to reduce their dependence on coal. However, industrializing economies, particularly in Asia with affordable access to domestic coal reserves, have adopted longer timelines for transitioning away from coal.

The world's coal fleet increased by 2% to 2,130 gigawatts, with China accounting for about two-thirds of the increase, followed by Indonesia and India, as per the climate research firm. China initiated construction on 70 gigawatts of new coal plants last year, almost 20 times more than the rest of the world combined.

According to the report, China added over 47 gigawatts of new coal plants last year while retiring only 3.7 gigawatts. Indonesia added 5.9 gigawatts of plants, including several to support its growing metals processing industry, and India increased its capacity by 5.5 gigawatts.

Global capacity outside China saw its first increase since 2019, partly due to the fewest retirements of coal plants in over a decade.

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While new coal plants are generally less polluting than older ones, experts emphasize the urgent need to move away not just from coal but all fossil fuels to mitigate the severe consequences of global warming.

Flora Champenois, an author of the report, highlighted the dual challenge facing coal's future: addressing currently operational plants and ensuring any new plants are the last ones ever built. The overwhelming reliance on coal in countries like China and India underscores the need for accelerated transition efforts to meet climate goals.

China, and to a lesser extent India, are still planning to build coal plants for many years to come. In 2023, new coal plant construction hit an eight-year high in China. If China were to build all the others it has proposed, it would add the equivalent of one-third of its current operating fleet.

Currently, China accounts for around 60 percent of the world's coal use, followed by India and then the United States. India is heavily reliant on coal, with 80 percent of its electricity generation coming from this source.

On the other hand, the growth in coal has led to a slowdown in plant retirements in Western economies. Fewer plants were decommissioned in 2023 than in any year over the past decade. Phasing out all operating coal plants by 2040 would necessitate closing an average of about two coal plants per week.

Editing by Reiner Simanjuntak

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