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Record coal plant retirements offset by China coal plant boom, new report says

06 April 2021

According to a new report by led by Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a steep increase in coal plant development in China offset a retreat from coal in the rest of the world in 2020, resulting in the first increase in global coal capacity development since 2015. In total, China was home to 85% of the 87.4 gigawatts (GW) of proposed new coal plants in 2020.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

The report, ‘Boom and Bust 2021: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline’, is the seventh annual survey of the global coal plant pipeline. A record-tying 37.8 GW of coal plants were retired in 2020, led by the US with 11.3 GW and EU27 with 10.1 GW. President Trump’s promised coal boom was a bust as US coal plant retirements during Trump’s four-year term rose to 52.4 GW, exceeding the 48.9 GW retired during President Obama’s second term.

China commissioned 38.4 GW of new coal plants in 2020, comprising 76% of the global total (50.3 GW). Outside China, 11.9 GW was commissioned and, taking into account closures, the global coal fleet outside China declined by 17.2 GW in 2020 – the third year in a row that coal power capacity outside China shrank. 

Outside China, the coal plant development pipeline is collapsing in Asia, as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia have announced plans to cut up to 62.0 GW of planned coal power. GEM estimates the policies will leave 25.2 GW of coal power capacity remaining in pre-construction planning in the four countries – an 80% decline from the 125.5 GW planned there just five years ago, in 2015.

Globally, commissioning of new plants fell to 50.3 GW in 2020, a decline of 34% from 2019, as projects in development struggled to obtain financing and many projects were delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In India, coal power capacity rose by just 0.7 GW in 2020, with 2.0 GW commissioned and 1.3 GW retired. 

New construction starts fell 5% from 28.3 GW in 2019 to 27.0 GW in 2020. However, outside of China, new construction starts fell by 74%, from 21.1 GW in 2019 to 5.5 GW in 2020. 

“In 2020, we saw country after country make announcements to cut the amount of coal power in their future energy plans,” said Christine Shearer, GEM’s Coal Program Director. “We are very likely seeing the last coal plants in planning throughout most of the world.” 

“Dozens of new coal power projects, equal to the total coal power capacity of Germany and Poland combined, were announced last year in China,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, CREA’s lead analyst. “These projects are a key test of the country’s pledge to peak emissions before 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060. Cancelling them would put the country on track to the low-carbon development the leadership says it wants to pursue.”

In addition to GEM the report’s co-authors are the Sierra Club, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), Climate Risk Horizons, GreenID, and Ekosfer.

Find out more about GEM’s report by clicking here.


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