Prospects for powering past coal


To keep global warming within 1.5 °C of pre-industrial levels, there needs to be a substantial decline in the use of coal power by 20301,2 and in most scenarios, complete cessation by 20501,3. The members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), launched in 2017 at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties, are committed to “phasing out existing unabated coal power generation and a moratorium on new coal power generation without operational carbon capture and storage”4. The alliance has been hailed as a ‘political watershed’5 and a new ‘anti-fossil fuel norm’6. Here we estimate that the premature retirement of power plants pledged by PPCA members would cut emissions by 1.6 GtCO2, which is 150 times less than globally committed emissions from existing coal power plants. We also investigated the prospect of major coal consumers joining the PPCA by systematically comparing members to non-members. PPCA members extract and use less coal and have older power plants, but this alone does not fully explain their pledges to phase out coal power. The members of the alliance are also wealthier and have more transparent and independent governments. Thus, what sets them aside from major coal consumers, such as China and India, are both lower costs of coal phase-out and a higher capacity to bear these costs.

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Fig. 1: Impact of the PPCA pledges.
Fig. 2: Difference between PPCA and Coal18 countries.
Fig. 3: Functioning of Government index and share of coal in electricity generation in PPCA members, Coal18 and other countries.

Data availability

The data file for regression analysis is available in the Supplementary Information. Data for the figures are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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This work was supported by the Research Council Norway under the Analyzing past and future energy industry contractions: Towards a better understanding of the flip-side of energy transitions Project under grant agreement no. 267528/E10. A.C. received support from the Central European University’s Intellectual Themes Initiative Political Economy of Energy Transitions Project.

Author information




J.J. conceived the study. J.J., A.C. and V.V. designed the research. J.J., V.V. and L.N. carried out the research. All authors analysed the results. J.J., A.C. and V.V. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Jessica Jewell.

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Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Pao-Yu Oei, I. A. Grant Wilson and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Replication dataset for logistic regression

Supplementary Data 2

Replication script for logistic regression

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Jewell, J., Vinichenko, V., Nacke, L. et al. Prospects for powering past coal. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 592–597 (2019).

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