“To avert worsening climate disasters, all sectors of the economy must be transformed by midcentury. But one task is more urgent than all others: the rapid phase-down of planet-warming emissions from coal-fired power plants in emerging economies.
The world’s leaders are failing badly in meeting this goal. Burning coal for electricity is the single largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions. Every year it accounts for about 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide — more than 70 percent of global fossil fuel emissions from electricity generation.
And we’re continuing to move in the wrong direction. Since 1990, the world has doubled its emissions from coal-fired power. There are now more than 6,500 plants. At least an additional 941 are planned. According to our calculations at the Rockefeller Foundation, combined, they would emit 273 billion tons of carbon dioxide if allowed to operate for their normal operational lifetime of about 40 years — which is equivalent to nearly eight years of all carbon dioxide pollution globally. These emissions would presage humanitarian crises that can scarcely be imagined for the world’s most vulnerable communities.
We need to stop building coal plants immediately and cut coal emissions in roughly half by 2030 to keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels. That is the upper limit for warming set by the United Nations to avoid escalating climate risks. We must also accelerate the replacement of existing coal plants with clean power, which will unlock the potential to decarbonize transportation, buildings and industry. Innovative political and financial solutions are emerging. The question is: Will we harness them?”