Last week, we reported the incredible news that we may finally be turning the corner on climate change. Emissions did not rise in 2014 because China, for the first time in decades, used less coal.
The coal boom the world saw from 2005-2012 is finally over, says think tank CoalSwarm. There are still too many plants being built, but for each one that comes online, two are shelved or canceled, they say.
Last year, China’s used 2.9% less coal, resulting in a 2% decline in emissions – huge news for a country that consumes half the world’s coal.
In fact, China faces a coal glut because power plants are operating at 54% of capacity, the lowest in 35 years, as it uses more renewable energy and becomes more efficient, says CoalSwarm. Public uproar over air pollution is forcing fast action – the last of Beijing’s coal plants close next year, for example.
India, another major developing country of concern, has tabled or cancelled coal projects six to one since 2012, even as it clings to big plans for more. In the US and Europe, most new coal plants have been stopped and retirements are accelerating.
At this point, there’s 1080 gigawatts of new coal in the pipeline, down from 1401 GW two years ago – a 23% decline. CoalSwarm credits the drop to citizen opposition, competition from renewable energy, substitution of natural gas and an increasingly clear regulatory path toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
While fossil-fuel divestment gathers force among many big investors, many more see the writing on the wall for purely financial reasons. "From Australia to Mozambique, new coal mines costing billions of dollars are being mothballed, and major mining firms are getting out of coal, says Tim Buckley at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. In the most dramatic example, in July, mining giant Rio Tinto sold its stake in the world’s most expensive coal mine in Mozambique – effectively writing off more than $3 billion," reports Yale360.
Worldwide, coal prices are down by half, and many mining companies – especially in the US – are operating at a loss, reports Reuters. Over 70% of mines in Appalachia aren’t profitable.
The future for the coal industry is looking "increasingly bleak," says a Macquarie Research investor note, and "a wave of bankruptcies" is just over the horizon as coal mining companies face mounting debt and a shrinking market, reports Time Magazine.
To keep global temperature rise to 2C, carbon emissions have to fall 2.5% a year, according to Myles Allen at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, reports New Scientist.
Can we make it under the wire?! "So far physics shows a single degree of global warming is enough to melt most Arctic ice," … "Our task is brutally hard and painfully simple: keep the carbon in the ground, says Bill McKibben. "Pressure is growing. A relentless climate movement is starting to win big."
Check out CoalSwarm, which tracks every proposed coal plant in the world.
Read the report, Boom and Bust: Tracking the Global Coal Plant Pipeline: