One of the most fundamental challenges to achieving climate goals is ending the current reliance on coal and fossil gas in the power system. These two fuels generate around 60% of the world’s electricity, but their use creates vast amounts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Burning coal contributes around 75% of total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated by the global power sector, with the remaining emissions primarily from the use of fossil gas. And power sector emissions account for about 23% of total global GHG emissions — the single largest sectoral contribution.
Coal- and fossil gas-fired power need to be rapidly phased out.
Backed by mounting scientific evidence and economic analysis, the best course of action is to quickly phase out fossil fuels and replace them with clean zero-carbon power sources. Coal consumption is declining in certain regions, such as North America and Europe, but not quickly enough. At the same time, the use of unabated fossil gas is increasing globally, creating a barrier to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.
While burning of fossil fuels in conjunction with technologies to capture and store CO2 emissions is technically feasible, there remain large uncertainties and risks of these carbon capture and storage technologies at scale. They are not economically competitive and do not eliminate all emissions, such as methane emissions during production and transport. This means carbon capture and storage technologies cannot be viewed as an alternative to zero-carbon power in the global displacement of fossil fuels.
Efforts need to accelerate in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.
The carbon intensity of power supply needs to be reduced by about 80% before 2030 and reach zero by 2050. The current scale and pace of change is not enough to meet the ambitions set forward in the Paris Climate Agreement; countries need to dramatically increase their zero-carbon electricity ambitions and actions. For example, the decline of coal needs to accelerate six-fold over the next eight years in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.