Driven by China, Coal Plants Made a Comeback in 2023

Global capacity to generate power from coal, one of the most polluting fossil fuels, grew in 2023, driven by a wave of new plants coming online in China that coincided with a slowing pace of retirements of older plants in the United States and Europe.

The findings came in an annual report by Global Energy Monitor, a nonprofit organization that tracks energy projects around the world. The last time the group found coal capacity to have grown was in 2019.

Coal’s heavy greenhouse gas footprint has prompted calls for it to be rapidly phased out as a source of energy, and all of the world’s countries have broadly agreed to reduce their dependence on coal. But industrializing economies, particularly in Asian countries with inexpensive access to domestic coal reserves, have set longer horizons for their transitions.

China alone accounted for two-thirds of the world’s newly operating coal plants last year. Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Japan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and South Korea also inaugurated new plants, which typically operate for two to three decades.

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One silver lining is that new coal plants are generally less polluting than older ones, but scientists, climate researchers and activists agree that moving away from not just coal, but all fossil fuels, has to happen as soon as possible to avoid the most dire consequences of global warming.

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