New Briefing – Global coal fired generator emissions – 1904 to 2050

Prior to the onset of the devastating fires this summer, which have raised considerable discussion about the effect of emissions and of Australia’s coal industry on climate change, Frontier Economics had been looking at cumulative emissions from coal in a global, historical context. Why? The end of the coal industry has been regularly predicted by the media, who love to report when renewable energy production edges out coal. Such is the rapid growth of renewables that there have even been predictions that renewables will soon take over coal and other fossil fuels. This could leave the impression that governments do not need to take deliberate action to reduce emissions from fossil fuel generation and that the claimed economic superiority of renewables will do all the work.

Our report finds that nothing could be further from the truth. Even assuming no further coal generators are built and the operating lives and output of existing generators are dramatically reduced from historic levels, cumulative emissions will rise a further 50% by 2050 when countries like Australia should be at net zero emissions to achieve their Paris targets. The likelihood is that the cumulative emissions will be more than this estimate.

By 2050 the US, China and India combined, will make up 64% of total cumulative CO2 emissions from coal generators. As of 2019, China is now the largest single emitter per year and cumulatively of CO2 from coal generated electricity.

China’s cumulative carbon emissions were about the same as Australia’s in 1975 and about 6% of the cumulative emissions of the USA in 1975. China’s rapid growth in emissions occurred from about 2000. From then, it took China a mere 18 years to produce as much cumulative emissions from coal as the second biggest emitter, the USA, took to produce in the previous 114 years.

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