A fleet of new coal plants in Asia threatening to derail global emissions targets has exposed the growing “disconnect” between energy markets and climate goals. Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, said the growth of coal-fired power in Asia was worrying because the new plants would “lock in the emissions trajectory of the world, full stop”.
“How we are going to deal with this problem is for me the nerve center of the climate change debate today,” Mr. Birol told the Financial Times. Asia has 2,000GW of coal-fired power plants that are operating or under construction — more than 10 times as much as the EU — and many of them are inefficient plants. While the coal fleets in the US and Europe are older, 42 years on average, and near the end of their life, Asia’s coal plants are just 11-years-old on average and most still have decades left to operate.
Mr . Birol said the Asian coal plants were a crucial reason why renewable energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions were both increasing at the same time. “It’s one of the blind spots of the climate change discussion,” he said. Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions ticked up 1.4 percent last year, following several years of staying flat, and are set to rise again in 2018 owing to the greater demand for fossil fuels.
Asia accounted for two-thirds of the growth in emissions last year. This month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists convened by the United Nations, said global emissions had to reach net zero by 2050 if the world was to limit warming to 1.5C from pre-industrial levels.
That would require a dramatic reduction in fossil fuel consumption, as well as developing technology that could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Bringing global emissions to a peak so that they start to decline as soon as possible was an important recommendation of the report.