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1,200 New Coal Plants 'Ensure Runaway Climate Change'

Expansive plan 'could kill a quarter million people every year'

Common Dreams staff

(Photo courtesy Sierra Club)

Even as coal use in the United States declines, a report released by the World Resources Institute reveals that 1,200 new coal plants are planned worldwide, with more than three-quarters in China and India.

The study, reported today in The Guardian, states that the new plants will increase "the equivalent of adding another China, the world's biggest emitter" in greenhouse emissions.

India plans 455 new plants compared to 363 in China, with dozens also planned for America, Australia, Europe and Russia, Think Progress reports.

And new data today from the World Meteorological Organization states that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide levels hit record highs in 2011, with a 30 percent increase in the amount of heat trapped on earth since 1990.

"This is definitely not in line with a safe climate scenario – it would put us on a really dangerous trajectory," said the WRI's Ailun Yang, who compiled the report, considered to be the most comprehensive in the public domain, according to The Guardian. But she said new emissions limits proposed in the US and a voluntary cap on coal use in China could begin to turn the tide. "These policies would give really strong signals about the risks to the future financial performance of coal of climate policies."

David Ferris in Forbes reports today that four years ago, coal use produced 50 percent of US electricity, but that by the end of the decade the number may be closer to 30 percent. Still, the US remains the second-biggest user of coal — with India set to overtake the US by 2025, Forbes reports.

But the WRI reports that global coal trade has rebounded, rising by 13 percent in 2010. And a recent report by the International Energy Agency says that by 2035, coal will lead global fuel for power generation.

"The biggest changes are fast-rising imports by Japan, Sough Korea and Taiwan, which all have large numbers of coal-fired plants, but produce virtually no coal of their own," The Guardian reports.

Germany, the United Kingdom and France are still among the top 10 importers, with Indonesia and Australia the largest exporters.

Developing countries including Guatemala, Cambodia, Morocco, Namibia, Senegal and Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan also plan new coal-fired plants.

Ferris notes, "So while the U.S. is dethroning coal, it may not do much to slow the carbon emissions that are steadily warming the planet." As the IEA report notes, “The policy decisions carrying the most weight for the global coal balance will be taken in Beijing and New Delhi.”

Writing in the Huffington Post today, Justin Guay of the Sierra Club notes:

If built, the air pollution from these plants could kill a quarter million people every year, and all but ensure runaway climate change. The dark future this expansion promises must be stopped before it's too late [...] In the U.S., coal producers plan to open new strip mines in the Powder River Basin, transport coal over 800 miles by train (endangering local communities) , and then ship over 140 tons per year to Asian markets to offset historic lows in domestic consumption.

But staunch opposition to the new plants may impede their progress, according to Guay, who notes that the Beyond Coal campaign has worked with local activists in the U.S. "to finally move our country off coal. And residents of other countries are standing up in opposition as well," he reports.

Guay continues:

The industry knows if it doesn't act now, the centuries long dominance it has enjoyed will come crashing down. When it does, it will be because rice farmers in Hulu Sungai Tengah, Indonesia, fishermen along the spectacular coral reefs of Sabah, Malaysia, and parents from bustling metropolitan city of Chicago in the United States, stood up and fought back against seemingly insurmountable odds and showed the world that coal is the problem, not the solution.

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