1,200 coal-fired power plants planned
More than 1,000 coal-fired power plants are being planned worldwide, research has revealed.
The huge planned expansion comes despite warnings from politicians and scientists that the planet's fast-rising carbon emissions must peak within a few years if runaway climate change is to be avoided, and that fossil fuel assets risk becoming worthless if international action on global warming moves forward.
Coal plants are the most polluting of all power stations and the World Resources Institute (WRI) identified 1,200 in planning across 59 countries, with about three-quarters in China and India. The capacity of the new plants adds up to 1,400GW to global greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of adding another China, which is the world's biggest emitter.
India is planning 455 plants, compared to 363 in China - which is seeing a slowdown in its coal investments after a vast building programme in the past decade.
"This is definitely not in line with a safe climate scenario. It would put us on a really dangerous trajectory," said the WRI's Ailun Yang, who compiled the report, considered to be the most comprehensive in the public domain. But she said new emissions limits proposed in the United States and a voluntary cap on coal use in China could begin to turn the tide.
"These policies would give really strong signals about the risks to the future financial performance of coal of climate policies," she said.
Nick Robins, head of the climate change centre at HSBC, said: "If you think about low-carbon energy only in terms of carbon, then things look tough [in terms of not using coal]. But if you take into account all factors, then dealing with coal [i.e. not using it] looks a little less difficult."
He mentioned the increasing replacement of coal with shale gas and renewable energy, tightening air pollution regulations, the gradual cleaning of economies such as China's and the increasing scarcity of water, which is needed in large quantities by coal-fired power stations.
The WRI report also found that, after a slight dip during the economic troubles of 2008, the global coal trade has rebounded and rose by 13 per cent in 2010.
A structural shift has moved the bulk of the international coal trade from the Atlantic, serving Europe and the US, to the Pacific.
China became a net importer of coal in 2009 but the biggest changes are fast-rising imports by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, which all have large numbers of coal-fired plants but produce virtually no coal.
Indonesia and Australia are the largest coal exporters, with the latter planning to triple its mining and port capacity to almost one billion tonnes a year.