Companies and countries fail to exit carbon-intensive and climate-wrecking coal projects

Coal mine and power plant in the background.
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Since the Paris Agreement, companies have expanded coal plant capacity by an amount greater than the entire operating coal fleets of Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia combined. Moreover, coal corporations are planning to increase this capacity by a further 25%, according to new research.

Companies fail to exit coal

German campaign and research group Urgewald has released its annual analysis on the state of the world’s top coal mining, power plant, and production companies. The Global Coal Exit List (GCEL) compiled by the group and 40 NGO partners is a database of over 1,400 parent companies of coal assets.

Director of Urgewald Heffa Schuecking said that the “overall picture that our data delivers is bleak”. In particular, Schuecking noted that:

Out of the 1,433 companies on the GCEL, only 71 companies have announced coal exit dates. Meanwhile, 577 companies are still developing new coal assets.

Significantly, the analysis found that companies had expanded the global coal plant fleet by 186 GW since nations signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. On top of this, the GCEL companies have projects in the pipeline that would add an extra 516 GW of coal-fired power capacity. This would be equivalent to increasing the world’s existing capacity by a quarter.

Meanwhile, the report also identified that companies are planning an increase in coal mining. In 2022, companies pushed thermal coal production to an all-time record high of over 7.2bn tonnes. Naturally, they intend to maintain this trend. The report stated that:

All in all, companies on the GCEL are planning to develop new thermal coal mining projects with a total capacity of 2.5 billion tons per year, an amount equal to over 35% of the world’s current production.

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As it stands, coal companies show no signs of exiting the polluting fossil fuel.

Countries ramping up coal

The Urgewald findings followed another piece of crucial coal analysis from September. As the Canary reported, overall, G20 nations are failing to exit coal-based power emissions. The group of large economies had increased their per-capita coal-based emissions by 9% between 2015 and 2022.

As with the G20 report, Urgewald found that some countries in particular are driving the uptake of new coal capacity. The report identified that China is planning the largest ramp up in coal power plant capacity. Alone, the country will make up two-thirds of the new planned 516 GW.

Ironically, the report highlighted that climate-fueled extreme weather has been the primary instigator for its coal plans. Specifically, record drought  has hit its hydropower generation. Meanwhile, record-breaking heatwaves have causing electricity demand to surge. As a result, the perfect storm of climate super-charged weather has pushed the country to take up more of the dirty fossil fuel.

India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Russia, and Bangladesh are also planning new coal-fired power capacity, to the tune of 72 GW, 21 GW, 14 GW, 12 GW, and 10 GW respectively.

Replacing one fossil fuel with another

Seeing these results, Western politicians might therefore point the finger at China – their often-favoured climate action get-out clause. However, the report’s findings tempered this climate whataboutism. While eight of the world’s top ten coal plant developers are Chinese state-owned, US investors are also heavily implicated.

Notably, 96 investors from the US, including BlackRock and Vanguard, account for over a quarter of institutional investments in these coal power developers. Moreover, having fewer plans for coal-fired power generation does not let other nations off the hook either. In particular, the Urgewald report highlighted that many countries were simply shifting from coal-fired power to other fossil fuels.

As such, Schuecking argued that:

Replacing one fossil fuel with another is not the answer. New gas plants lock in decades of additional CO 2 and methane emissions that we can’t afford.

As the Canary has previously pointed out, for example:

while it has lowered coal-based emissions, the UK government has continued to double down on fossil fuel production.

Specifically, the UK has greenlit a new coal mine in Cumbria, as well as the enormous climate-wrecking Rosebank oil and gas field. Campaigners have estimated that across its lifetime, Rosebank will produce the emissions equivalent of burning 56 coal-fired power plants for an entire year.

Global coal exit

Multiple analyses have warned that the world needs to completely phase-out coal by 2040. For instance, research group Climate Analytics has argued that wealthy nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) should aim for no later than 2030 for a total coal phase-out. Moreover, it stated that the rest of the world will need to do the same by 2040.

Similarly, a Global Energy Monitor (GEM) report in June corroborated this phase-out goal. In particular, this date is crucial for the world to meet its Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5°c.

Urgewald’s findings come as countries prepare to meet for the COP28 climate summit in Dubai. In the lead-up to the summit, multiple nations have made pledges to phase out the use of coal. However, as Urgewald’s new research shows, countries and companies are still majorly falling short.

In order to meet global climate goals, it’s vital that countries stop greenlighting new coal-fired power plants and digging up more of the most climate-destructive fossil fuel. An exit from coal must embody a genuinely green and just transition – anything less is a recipe for more climate disaster.

Feature image via Calistemon/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0


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