Since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, almost all countries have reduced their coal-fired power plant capacity under development, and more than half the countries with coal-fired power plants have reduced or kept operating coal capacity flat. Climate concerns, unfavorable economics, and public opposition continue to close the door on many coal plant proposals—and close actual doors at some coal plants. However, despite promising momentum, the world’s operating coal power capacity has grown 11% since 2015, and global coal use and coal capacity reached an all time high in 2023. The global coal fleet grew by 48.4 gigawatts (GW), or 2%, in 2023 to a total of 2,130 GW, with China driving two-thirds of additions. Outside of China, the coal fleet also saw a small 4.7 GW uptick for the first time since 2019. Although new retirement plans and phaseout commitments continued to emerge, less coal capacity was retired in 2023 than in any other single year in more than a decade.

One of the key indicators of growth in coal capacity—new construction starts—declined outside of China for the second year in a row and hit a record annual low since data collection began in 2015. In China, the exact opposite happened, with new construction starts increasing for the fourth year in a row and hitting an eight-year high, which is out of line with President Xi’s 2021 pledge to “strictly control” coal projects. Outside of China, 113 GW of coal is still under consideration, only slightly up from 110 GW in 2022, due to a surge in proposals in India, and, in China, 268 GW is under consideration, up from 249 GW in 2022. This global pre-construction capacity, up 6% since last year, crystallizes the importance of calls to stop proposing and breaking ground on new coal plants.

Countries must also ramp up phaseout commitments, as well as ensure announcements are translated into plant-by-plant retirement plans. Just 15% (317 GW) of the current global operating coal capacity has a commitment to retire in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Phasing out operating coal power by 2040 would require an average of 126 GW of retirements per year for the next 17 years, the equivalent of about two coal plants per week. Accounting for coal plants under construction and in pre-construction (578 GW) would require even steeper cuts.

Photo by Melvinas Priananda/Trend Asia