More than 2,400 coal-fired power stations are under construction or being planned around the world, a study has revealed two weeks after Britain pledged to stop burning coal.
The new plants will emit 6.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and undermine the efforts at the Paris climate conference to limit global warming to 2C. China is building 368 plants and planning a further 803, according to the study by four climate change research bodies, including Ecofys and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. India is building 297 and planning 149.
Rich countries are also planning new coal plants. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima has prompted Japan to turn back to coal, with 40 plants in the pipeline and five under construction.
The study found that carbon dioxide from the 2,440 plants would raise emissions to five times the level consistent with keeping global warming below 2C.
Britain pledged before the Paris summit to close its 12 coal plants by 2025 and restrict their use from 2023. Some are being converted to burn American wood pellets.
Amber Rudd, the energy and climate change secretary, said: “It cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon-intensive, 50-year-old coal-fired power stations.” Ms Rudd will arrive in Paris on Sunday for the crucial closing stages of the conference, which is seeking a global deal to cut emissions to safe levels.
Pieter van Breevoort, of Ecofys, said: “There is a solution to this issue of too many coal plants on the books: cancel them. Renewable energy and stricter pollution standards are making coal plants obsolete around the world, and the earlier a plant is taken out of the planning process the less it will cost.”
Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, warned Britain and other western countries on Monday not to put pressure on his country to stop burning coal. “We still need conventional energy. We should make it clean, not impose an end to its use,” he said.
The World Coal Association said that new plants were vital but that they should use the latest technology to ensure they operated more efficiently.
Benjamin Sporton, the association’s chief executive, said: “Each nation will choose an energy mix that best meets its needs, and for most countries coal will continue to play a significant role.”
The Prince of Wales called yesterday for a vast expansion of forests around the world to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. “As all the horrors of even a two degree warmer world bite — and bite they will — we are going to need a lot more forest,” he said.