The future of coal in a carbon-constrained climate
Phasing out coal requires expanding the notion of a ‘just transition’ and a roadmap that specifies the sequence of coal plant retirement, the appropriate policy instruments as well as ways to include key stakeholders in the process.
Despite decades of knowledge about its contribution to climate change, coal combustion still accounts for 40% of global CO2 emissions from energy use. The power sector must stop using coal without carbon capture and storage by approximately 2050 if the Paris Agreement climate goals are to be achieved. This will not be easy. Globally, the coal mining industry alone employs about 8 million people and creates revenues of more than US$900 billion a year. While growth in coal investments is slowing and COVID-19-induced electricity demand reductions have cut coal-fired electricity output in 2020, coal use is unlikely to decline substantially in the medium term. Reductions in the USA and Europe are offset by growth in China, India and other Asian countries3,4, thus locking in future demand. African countries may follow next.