Phasing out coal for 2 °C target requires worldwide replication of most ambitious national plans despite security and fairness concerns

Vadim Vinichenko, Marta Vetier, Jessica Jewell, Lola Nacke, Aleh Cherp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Ending the use of unabated coal power is a key climate change mitigation measure. However, we do not know how fast it is feasible to phase-out coal on the global scale. Historical experience of individual countries indicates feasible coal phase-out rates, but can these be upscaled to the global level and accelerated by deliberate action? To answer this question, we analyse 72 national coal power phase-out pledges and show that these pledges have diffused to more challenging socio-economic contexts and now cover 17% of the global coal power fleet, but their impact on emissions (up to 4.8 Gt CO2 avoided by 2050) remains small compared to what is needed for achieving Paris climate targets. We also show that the ambition of pledges is similar across countries and broadly in line with historical precedents of coal power decline. While some pledges strengthen over time, up to 10% have been weakened by the energy crisis caused by the Russo-Ukrainian war. We construct scenarios of coal power decline based on empirically-grounded assumptions about future diffusion and ambition of coal phase-out policies. We show that under these assumptions unabated coal power generation in 2022-2050 would be between the median generation in 2 °C-consistent IPCC AR6 pathways and the third quartile in 2.5 °C-consistent pathways. More ambitious coal phase-out scenarios require much stronger effort in Asia than in OECD countries, which raises fairness and equity concerns. The majority of the 1.5 °C- and 2 °C-consistent IPCC pathways envision even more unequal distribution of effort and faster coal power decline in India and China than has ever been historically observed in individual countries or pledged by climate leaders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number014031
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume18
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Energy Systems
  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
  • Climate Research

Free keywords

  • burden sharing
  • climate mitigation scenarios
  • coal phase-out
  • energy transitions
  • feasibility space
  • policy diffusion

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