Commissioning just one-third of the more than 2,400 coal-fired power plants currently under construction or on the drawing board around the world would push “hundreds of millions” more people into poverty, a report by development experts finds, as the plants’ emissions accelerate climate change beyond the Paris Agreement target of 2ºC.
Even employing so-called clean coal technology that promises to reduce emissions by as much as 40%, the completion of even 800 of the facilities would likely drive warming above the Paris threshold. That would have the effect of “worsening climate impacts, from longer droughts and more severe storms to rising sea levels,” the Thomson-Reuters Foundation writes, citing the report by a dozen development groups.
The findings reinforce warnings earlier this month from the OECD and FAO, linking continued fossil fuel use to hundreds of thousands of annual deaths and sub-Saharan African poverty.
The report’s sponsors, which include the UK-based Overseas Development Institute and India’s Vasudha Foundation, urge utilities, especially in India and China where two-thirds of the coal plants are planned, to go beyond “what they already know.” They note that “falling prices for solar and wind power mean renewable energy is now the fastest and least expensive way to bring electricity to the world’s poor.”
“There are myths that we’re trying to pull up the ladder [in rich countries] and deny developing countries the chance to develop the way we did,” said report author Sarah Wykes, an energy justice analyst with Catholic charity CAFOD. “But you don’t need these kinds of dirty fuels anymore for economic development. There are much better clean alternatives.”
“In particular,” Thomson-Reuters’ Laurie Goering writes, citing the report, “off-grid and ‘distributed’ renewable power—in which smaller-scale clean power systems are built close to areas of demand, avoiding the high cost of expanding national power grids—[are] ‘the cheapest and quickest way of reaching over two-thirds of those without electricity’” in the world.