Climate Change

Coal Power Station Jaenschwalde Braunkohle Kraftwerk Jaenschwalde

Braunkohle Kraftwerk Jaenschwalde © Greenpeace

Coal is the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change. The burning of coal is responsible for 46% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and accounts for 72% of total  greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the electricity sector. If plans to build up to 1200 new coal fired power stations around the world are realized, the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from these plants would put us on a path towards catastrophic climate change, causing global temperatures to rise by over five degrees Celsius by 2100. This will have dire impacts for all life on earth.

Coal was the fastest-growing primary energy source in the world in the past decade: between 2001 and 2010, world consumption of coal increased by 45%. During the same time period, total anthropogenic GHG emissions were the highest in human history. According to the International Energy Agency, to have a 50% chance of staying within 2 degrees celsius of global warming, only zero carbon utilities and infrastructure should be developed beyond 2017. This means that the age of coal must soon come to an end.

There is cause for hope. A growing global movement is challenging the coal industry’s expansion and promoting real solutions to electricity needs. Some governments and multilateral banks are beginning to recognize that the costs of coal generation are unacceptable and are rejecting financing for new coal plants.Grassroots activists have also started a burgeoning movement to pressure universities and institutional investors to divest from coal. To avoid catastrophic climate change, it is clear that we must end our dependence on coal and invest in affordable and sustainable renewable energy.


Featured Resources

China is hitting its climate targets years ahead of schedule

China’s 13th five-year plan is quite possibly the most important document in the world in setting the pace of acting on climate change. 

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Let Them Eat Coal

Report by Oxfam in the lead up to the G7 meeting, arguing why the G7 must stop burning coal to tackle climate change and fight hunger. Read More

Stranded Assets and Subcritical Coal: The Risk to Companies and Investors

This report from the Stranded Assets Programme at Oxford University locates subcritical coal-fired power stations globally and identifies the ones most at risk of stranding due to their carbon intensity and deleterious effects on local air pollution and water stress. The research shows which companies own these assets and ranks companies by exposure. Furthermore, the report examines how environment-related risks facing subcritical coal assets might develop in the future. Read More

Towards Climate Catastrophe: the contribution of coal to climate change

This factsheet outlines coal's contribution to global climate change and why we need to urgently make the transition from coal to renewables. Scientists have found that more than 80% of known coal reserves need to stay in the ground in order to stay within 2 degrees celsius of global warming, the globally accepted limit. Read More

Rapid phase out of coal essential, but not enough to hold warming below 2 degrees

This policy brief from Climate Action Tracker finds that a phase-out of coal plants by 2050 would achieve approximately one-quarter of the emissions reduction target necessary to limit warming to two degrees centigrade. Read More
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