John Kerry, the special presidential envoy on climate matters, announced the United States’ commitment to halt the construction of new coal-fired power plants and eliminate existing ones. This pledge aligns to achieve 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035.
The announcement was made at the annual United Nations COP28 climate change summit in Dubai, where the United States officially joined a coalition of 56 other countries dedicated to abandoning coal to address climate change.
Accelerating Global Coal Phase-Out
John Kerry emphasized the importance of accelerating the phase-out of unabated coal power worldwide to bolster economies and communities while mitigating environmental impacts.
The first step, as outlined in the pledge, is to cease the construction of new unabated coal power plants.
2035 as a Target Year
While the announcement did not specify a date for retiring existing U.S. coal plants, other regulatory actions by the Biden administration suggest focusing on achieving this by 2035.
As of October, coal accounted for just under 20 percent of electricity generation in the United States, according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
Power Past Coal Alliance
The commitment to phase out coal is part of the Power Past Coal Alliance, which the U.S. recently joined. This alliance was initiated six years ago and gained new members in December, including the United States.
Coal Phase-Out Timeline
The Power Past Coal Alliance, referring to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net Zero Roadmap, outlined the necessity for advanced economies like the United States to halt the construction of new coal power plants by 2030 and phase out existing plants by 2040 globally.
This aligns with the goal established in the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
Global Coal Power Landscape
In 2022, coal-fired power plants generated 36 percent of global electricity, surpassing all other sources. Most of this output came from China, India, the United States, and Japan.
Despite climate pledges, China significantly expanded its coal power projects in 2022. The country continued to permit new coal power plants rapidly, with a notable increase compared to previous years.
India, the second-largest consumer of coal, also experienced an increase in coal consumption in 2021, as reported by the IEA.
U.S. Coal Demand
In the United States, coal demand grew by 15 percent in 2021, according to the IEA’s “Coal 2022” report.
A recent Global Energy Monitor (GEM) report estimated that approximately one million coal jobs could be lost by 2050 as coal mines are retired, even without the implementation of climate policies. Most of these job losses would occur in Asia, particularly China and India.
For the United States, the GEM report projected that over 15,000 jobs in the coal sector would be lost per decade in the 2030s and 2040s. Job losses in the 2050s were estimated to be less than 15,000.
Climate Action and Economic Impact
The commitment to phasing out coal reflects a global effort to address climate change and transition to cleaner energy sources, with significant economic implications for coal-dependent regions.