In December 2015, international governments pledged in Paris to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to keep it under 1.5°C. In order to meet these commitments, the world needs to move towards a low-carbon economy. According to the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assessment of emissions scenarios, this implies that by 2050 the global electricity sector needs to be decarbonised. The deployment of high-efficient low-emission (HELE) coal-fired power plants is presented by the coal industry and some governments as a technology that is climate friendly, claiming that if combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) – another, separate technology – it would ultimately lead to zero and even negative emissions.
The Ecofys report shows that HELE coal-fired electricity generation is incompatible with the goal to keep temperature rise under 2°C. The global carbon budget and the time remaining to reduce greenhouse gas emissions simply do not allow for replacement of retired coal plants with new more efficient coal plants, let alone capacity extensions. The 1,400 GW of currently planned coal capacity is not compatible with limiting warming to 2°C. If all planned capacity were HELE coal-fired electricity generation plants, the 2°C goal would still not be within reach.
This conclusion was reached through an assessment of the IPCC scenarios presented in the Fifth Assessment Report, of the role of coal plants in the IEA World Energy Outlook 2015 scenarios, and of the data on coal plants currently planned and/or under construction.
David de Jager
Energy Systems and Markets