There was a positive news story this week about how three quarters of plans for new coal power stations have been cancelled since the Paris Agreement in 2015. 44 countries are now committed to no new coal power. The Guardian covered the story here.
I like this story for two reasons. First, obviously, because of the news that coal power is declining. As the world’s dirtiest fuel, every cancelled coal power station is a win for the climate, but also for air pollution and human health. But there’s a secondary reason for liking it: it’s a story that breaks the usual rules of news and tells you what isn’t happening.
News focuses on what happens, not what didn’t happen. That’s natural, but it does mean that we miss the bigger picture sometimes. We read about China or India building new coal power stations, and don’t hear about the ones that didn’t get built. So it makes a change to see the absence of new coal celebrated. So let’s celebrate that a bit more.
Here’s a map of cancelled coal power stations, lifted from Global Energy Monitor’s mapping tools.
It’s well worth visiting the site to compare cancellations with new announcements, and where existing coal power is concentrated.
One thing is worth pointing out, and that’s the number of cancellations across Africa. This is important, because there are relatively very few coal power plants operating on the continent. South Africa and its immediate neighbours run them, taking advantage of local reserves. Morrocco runs coal, but otherwise it isn’t widely used.
With lots of people still lacking electricity, and coal in decline elsewhere, the industry has been eyeing Africa as a source of future business. China has been funding coal power, with huge state-owned coal power specialists looking for new markets. UK banks are involved. General Electric, a major manufacturer of turbines, has made no secret of investing in Africa. Donald Trump’s appointed ambassador to Kenya championed new coal in the country. And yet, the map shows cancelled coal projects all over the continent.
There are still one or two under construction, but this summer South Africa starting planning for the end of coal. The fuel may never get the foothold that it secured elsewhere, and that’s exactly what the world needs for Africa to leapfrog fossil fuels and build renewable energy.