As climate talks approach, pressure grows on Asia to cancel new coal projects

With six countries accounting for more than 80% of new coal projects planned globally, winning pledges to cancel these projects could help the UN climate summit COP26 in Scotland in November to ‘put the energy of coal into the world. ‘story’ – a key focus of organizer Alok Sharma.

New coal-fired power generation capacity on offer around the world has plunged 76% since the Paris Agreement in 2015, with 44 countries agreeing to end new projects, according to a report by think tank E3G released on Tuesday. .

Asia, however, is still at the center of the remaining pipeline in the world, which means that the action of six countries alone – China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh – could remove more than four-fifths of projects planned before construction.

Ending the use of coal – the most polluting fossil fuel – for power generation has been a key goal for climate change activists, leading to a rapid drying up of funding and insurance for communities. New projects.

Stopping coal use quickly is seen as vital to global goals of capping global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius and ideally below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid rapid escalation. climatic threats such as more severe storms, floods, forest fires and crop failures.

But coal remains a mainstay of power generation in Asia, which accounts for 75% of global coal demand, according to the International Energy Agency.

Countries with large coal deposits or fuel-dependent energy systems have been slow to abandon it, in part linked to the costs of abandoning factories and mines that are still in operation or reluctant to break commitments to new ones. factories.

China also remains a major funder of new coal-based energy, even though lower prices for solar and wind power make green energy more competitive than coal in most parts of the world.

“The coal economy has become increasingly less competitive with renewables, while the risk of stranded assets has increased,” said Chris Littlecott, author of the report and associate director at E3G.

‘Last man standing’

China alone is home to about 53% of the world’s new coal-fired power generation capacity under construction, the report notes.

And this despite a 74% reduction in its pipeline of projects since the Paris climate agreement, according to E3G.

The Asian giant, however, is not only under scrutiny for its coal projects at home, but also for financing projects abroad, after two other major financiers – South Korea and Japan – have said this year that they would end funding for coal overseas.

“China is the latest man to support overseas coal projects,” said Li Shuo, Beijing-based policy adviser at Greenpeace East Asia.

“The Chinese government should get ahead of this trend by declaring an overseas coal moratorium. Doing so before COP26 will help build momentum for the year-end global climate meeting, ”he said.

Getting countries to commit to more ambitious emission reduction plans and providing the necessary funding to put them in place are key themes of the COP26 summit, presented as the last chance to galvanize the action needed to limit the global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Countries from Indonesia to the Philippines have been part of a new wave of pledges across Asia not to approve new coal-fired power projects – but projects already planned or under construction will continue in the future. in most cases.

With new factories having to operate for decades to pay off the costs of their construction, failing to reverse these plans could doom climate goals, climate scientists and activists say.

A worker shovels coal as he loads a truck at a Hanoi coal port. | REUTERS

“We need to talk about ending projects ‘under construction’ and canceling ‘planned projects’ when it comes to coal in Asia,” said Sejong Youn, director of Solutions for Our Climate, a non-profit organization. Seoul based on climate. cash.

“This is the real goal that we must push in COP26.”

Youn said there is a “high probability” that China will “quietly, virtually” end overseas coal funding at some point, but he expects the country not to announce. such a decision to avoid being seen as yielding to outside pressure.

Costs of changing coal

Any effort to move away from charcoal should also take into account the impact it would have on impoverished communities and workers across Asia and potentially worsen inequalities, said Indonesian activist Arti Indallah Tjakranegara.

Indonesia’s transition to cleaner energy could create millions of new green jobs in the country of 260 million, but also lead to unemployment of tens of thousands and threaten the economy of coal-producing regions.

Excavators stack coal in a storage area at an Indonesian power plant in Suralaya, Banten province.  |  REUTERS
Excavators stack coal in a storage area at an Indonesian power plant in Suralaya, Banten province. | REUTERS

Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of coal for power generation, currently derives 60% of its own energy from coal. It plans to stop using coal, oil and gas by 2060 and aims to have 85% of its energy needs come from renewable sources.

“The energy transition is like two sides of the same coin. There are also risks to be mitigated, ”said Tjakranegara, director of Yayasan Humanis dan Inovasi Sosial, an Indonesian non-profit organization working on climate change issues.

“A just energy transition must meet the main challenges of unemployment, environmental degradation and inequalities,” she said by phone from Jakarta.

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