Worldwide changes have prompted a big drop in the development of coal-fired power plants, a new study from several environmental groups has found. Shifts in policy and economic conditions in China and India are central to the decline, says the report, which describes a 48-percent drop in overall pre-construction activity.

The report, titled Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline, takes a survey of the global coal industry and is the third such study undertaken by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and research collaborative CoalSwarm. The report says that the slowing of coal-plant construction brings the 2° C (3.6° F) temperature rise targeted as part of the Paris Agreement within the realms of possibility.

In January 2017, the amount of coal power capacity in pre-construction phase amounted to 570 GW, a huge drop from the 1,090 GW in January 2016. Further to finding that pre-construction activity – such as plant planning and design – had almost halved, it found that construction starts over the same time frame had dropped by 62 percent.

The authors, who describe coal plant development as being in "freefall," point to a tightening up on new projects in China as one of the key reasons, where permits for new coal plants declined by 85 percent. Financial retrenchment by coal plant backers in India also played a key role, with construction in both China and India now halted at more than 100 coal plant sites.

What's more, the authors report a record number of coal plant retirements in the last two years. This amounted to 64 GW of coal capacity shutdown, mostly in Europe and the US, though the researchers say meeting the Paris Agreement would require the current pace of retirements to double. But still, the decline in coal capacity paired with the rise in the capacity of renewable energy has the researchers feeling optimistic.

"This has been a messy year, and an unusual one," said Ted Nace, director of CoalSwarm. "It's not normal to see construction frozen at scores of locations, but central authorities in China and bankers in India have come to recognize overbuilding of coal plants as a major waste of resources. However abrupt, the shift from fossil fuels to clean sources in the power sector is a positive one for health, climate security, and jobs. And by all indications, the shift is unstoppable."

You can read the full report here.

Source: Sierra Club