Follow the (Taxpayer) Money: Introducing the Global Coal Finance Tracker

By James Browning

Two months after the IPCC special report Global Warming of 1.5°C, and with the start of the COP24 climate conference in Poland, the world is watching to see if countries will shift from expanding to retiring the global fleet of coal-fired power plants. In order to shine light on government financial support for coal plants, CoalSwarm has developed a new tool, the Global Coal Finance Tracker. The new tracker shines light on a crucial driver of the climate change crisis: the cross-border flow of billions of dollars from public finance institutions to coal-fired power plant projects. It allows users to zoom in on the details of financing at the individual plant level, or to zoom out to see overall country-to-country flows.  By making coal financing more transparent, the tracker makes it easier to hold governments accountable for coal projects being built overseas at taxpayer expense. It also gives people a way to hold the companies profiting from coal accountable for the plants’ impact on climate change.

As revealed by the newly Global Coal Finance Tracker, China, Japan, and South Korea are leading a push to continue building coal-fired power plants in developing nations. Overall, ten countries have financed the development of 66 gigawatts (GW) of new coal plant capacity outside their borders, with just three of those countries (China, Japan, and South Korea) financing the bulk of that total. Key findings:

  • China’s public financial institutions have financed at least 26 GW of coal plants overseas, and may finance at least 42 GW in the future.
  • Japan’s public financial institutions have financed at least 19 GW of coal plants overseas, and may finance at least 11 GW in the future.
  • South Korea’s public financial institutions have financed at least 8 GW of coal plants overseas, and many finance at least 9 GW more in the future.

New coal plants lock in decades of emissions. New construction also locks countries into a power source with an uncertain future, given the volatility of coal prices and the growth of carbon pricing policies. Building new solar and wind facilities is already cheaper than building new coal plants, or in some cases operating existing coal plants. A system with solar plus battery storage capacity is also competitive with coal and gas plants in a growing number of places. In this rapidly shifting landscape, the prevalence of coal plants is driven by a few factors: host countries ignoring the high health costs associated with coal plants; financing countries proposing coal plants in countries with extremely weak or non-existent coal-plant pollution standards; and companies looking to profit from the construction of coal plants and sales of equipment, disregarding the long term health, air quality, and climate impacts of the products they sell.

Additional details about the tool: The Global Coal Finance Tracker reveals the financial support for coal plant projects globally. The tracker currently includes only foreign flows of financing for coal that come from public finance institutions such as export credit agencies and development banks. The data covers all projects under development since 2013, including currently proposed projects, which have received or are likely to receive public finance. The tracker provides multiple levels of information, with information about the major countries financing coal projects, and information about the countries receiving support for coal projects. For the financing countries, data includes the names of government-affiliated financial institutions involved in projects, the list of individual projects abroad, and the amount of capacity (megawatts) being supported. For the recipient countries, data includes the list of foreign countries and financing institutions conducting coal projects within their jurisdiction, a list of the projects, and the amount of capacity being supported. For further detail, the tracker links to the CoalSwarm wiki page for the project.