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New Study Says Pace of Coal Plant Closures Insufficient to Stop Climate Change

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AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein
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Associated Press
In this Nov. 3, 2015 file photo, smoke and steam rise from the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Coal plant closures are expected to outpace new construction for the first time in the modern era by 2022, but that still might not be enough to meet international emission reduction goals intended to fend off the worst anticipated impacts of climate change.

“From a climate and health perspective, the trend toward a declining coal power fleet is encouraging, but not happening fast enough,” Ted Nace, director of CoalSwarm, said in a press release.  “Fortunately, mass production is cutting solar and wind costs much faster than expected, and both financial markets and power planners worldwide are taking notice.”

The report was issued Wednesday by CoalSwarm, and environmental groups Sierra Club and Greenpeace. It is the fourth annual assessment of how many coal plants have been proposed, are under construction and are in the process of being shuttered around the world.

The report found efforts by India and China to find alternatives to coal were chief among the reasons why coal power continues to decline. The groups said the Chinese government is moving away from greenlighting new coal plants, in large part due to air quality issues from coal plant pollution. In India, private capital firms are increasingly hesitant to finance new coal-fired facilities, they said.

In the U.S., analysts say President Donald Trump's promotion of coal has given the industry only a modest boost. Exports of coal used to make steel have increased, but U.S. producers continue to see declines in demand for the type of coal used to make electricity.

Despite these declines in coal production, the report's authors and independent analysts have agreed the current pace of coal's decline is too slow to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord.

A separate report released this week by the International Energy Agency found energy-related carbon dioxide emissions grew by 1.4 percent last year to a historic high. It’s the first jump in emissions in three years.

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