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The size of the global coal power fleet fell for the first time on record over the first six months of the year, with more generation capacity shutting than starting operation.

Coal power capacity dropped by 2.9 gigawatt in the first half of 2020, which is a small, though significant drop of about 0.14% according to US research group Global Energy Monitor, which monitors fossil fuel developments. By comparison, the global coal fleet had grown by an average of 25GW every six months over the previous two decades, from 2000-2019.

China, the world’s biggest annual greenhouse gas emitter, continues to dominate coal power development, having built nearly two-thirds of the world’s operating plants and being home to almost 90% of generators under construction. It is home to half the world’s operating coal-fired electricity capacity.

But the monitor’s global coal plant tracker database found the amount of coal power commissioned in China to the end of June was more than 40% below the same stage last year, 19.4 gigawatts compared with 11.4 gigawatts, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Christine Shearer, Global Energy Monitor’s coal program director, said the global decline was due to both the economic shock of the pandemic and record retirements in the European Union after an increase in the carbon price and tightening of pollution regulation.

“I think this could definitely be a moment where things have slowed down enough that countries rethink their coal plans,” she said. “The big question mark is China, and what it announces it will do in its 14th five-year plan”, stated Christine Shearer.

Across the globe, 18.3GWs of coal power was commissioned in the first half of the year, and 21.2GWs shut. Meaning that around 8.3GWs of the closures happened within the European Union with Spain retired half its fleet and Britain shut a third of its coal capacity and went coal-free for two months.

About 72GWs of planned new coal was cancelled in the first half of the year, the bulk of it in India and China, but 190GW remains under construction.

Analysis of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios suggests coal power generation will need to fall 50% below current levels by 2030 to put the world on a path to keeping global heating within 2°C of pre-industrial levels. About 75% will need to shut over the decade to stay below 1.5C.

Following on from the pandemic, thermal coal prices have fallen more than a third last year; the biggest drop in more than a decade, meaning that China has tightened its use of imported coal and increased its reliance on local mining.

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