Earth Could Warm 3 Degrees if Nations Keep Building Coal Plants, New Research Warns

A number of countries intend to construct new coal-fired power plants, with China alone having approved about 100 gigawatts. A gigawatt is equal to more than 3 million solar panels installed.

Because not enough coal-fired power plants are being retired, Earth is on track to dramatically overshoot a crucial global climate target, researchers cautioned in two new assessments. Despite having stated two years ago that they will start cutting back on their usage of the dirtiest fossil fuel in the planet, some countries are even considering new coal projects.

As part of the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep average global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels with a more ambitious goal of remaining below 1.5 degrees, nearly 200 nations decided for the first time in 2021 to gradually phase down “unabated” coal-fired power facilities.

However, a recent peer-reviewed analysis by two Swedish universities revealed that current nation commitments to reduce the usage of coal-fired power are insufficient to satisfy either of the Paris Agreement’s main objectives. According to the report, if additional plants don’t close down during the next five years, the world would likely warm by more than 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

According to a second report released by Global Energy Monitor, a company that studies global energy projects, the fleet of coal plants actually increased last year. According to that study, coal capacity increased by 19.5 gigawatts in 2022, or about enough to power 15 million households, primarily as a result of new plants constructed by China and India. While China installed 26.8 gigawatts and India added 3.5 gigawatts of coal power last year, the United States withdrew a record 13.5 gigawatts of coal power, and both nations want to build more new plants this year.

According to the most recent climate report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warned that the next seven years may be humanity’s last chance to rapidly wind down fossil fuel use in order to prevent runaway global warming, China alone has approved nearly 100 gigawatts of additional coal power plants. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, each gigawatt is equal to the installation of more than 3 million solar panels or more than 330 utility-scale wind turbines.

The authors of the Global Energy Monitor research concluded that in order to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 degrees, the world would need to shut down coal plants nearly five times more quickly than it is now doing.

Lead author of the Global Energy Monitor analysis Flora Champenois stated in the report that “the steeper the cuts and commitments need to be in the future, the more new coal projects come online.” “At this pace, the shift away from new and existing coal isn’t occurring quickly enough to prevent climate chaos.”

Leading authority on climate modeling and Berkeley Earth researcher Zeke Hausfather wasn’t shocked by a recent study that predicted a roughly 3-degree increase in global temperature.

Hausfather co-authored a scientific commentary on a Nature paper that assessed the net-zero commitments made by 154 countries and reached a similar conclusion: Depending on how governments carry out those plans, the earth might warm by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. In the best-case scenario, that analysis predicts an increase in global temperature of under 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. In its worst-case scenario, where most governments fall short of their climate promises, the earth warms by a significant amount over 3 degrees.

He wrote to me in an email, saying, “I think it is safe to conclude that global temperatures are heading to roughly 3°C by the end of the century under policies in place today. “More work will be required to put us on track to achieve our climate goals.”

According to scientists, every tenth of a degree that the globe warms will result in more fatal and devastating effects that might swiftly get out of hand. Since the Industrial Revolution, the world has already warmed by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius. One of humanity’s best chances to avoid some of the worst threats posed by rising temperatures, according to experts, is to stay below the thresholds set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement. These threats include accelerating mass extinctions, increasingly destructive extreme weather, and more frequent and widespread famines.

Scientists have tried to generate accurate projections, but it is difficult to predict exactly how the planet’s ecosystems and weather patterns would respond to the rising temperatures. For instance, according to study, exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming might result in around 14% of Earth’s population being exposed to extreme heat waves at least once every five years, while over 2 degrees Celsius of warming could increase that percentage to 37%. The kind of catastrophic heat wave that killed at least 90 people in Pakistan last year may become a yearly occurrence if temperatures rise above 2 degrees.

Various predictions also predict that due to the expanding drought conditions, tens of millions to hundreds of millions more people would experience a growing lack of food and water. One of the most terrifying forecasts, according to some study, is that if global warming exceeds 3 degrees, almost 13% of the world’s population who live on land may be imperiled by rising sea levels as a result of glaciers melting. According to a scientist, that equals 810 million people, according to Buzzfeed News.

However, a lot will depend on human decision-making as to how the climate problem plays out over the following decades. Most scientists concur that political, not technical, barriers stand in the way of addressing the climate catastrophe. If only governments and major corporations gave them priority, academics suggest, solutions to these issues would already be available and could be promptly adopted.

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