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Socio-political feasibility of coal power phase-out and its role in mitigation pathways


In IPCC pathways limiting warming to 1.5 °C, global coal power generation declines rapidly due to its emissions intensity and substitutability. However, we find that in countries heavily dependent on coal—China, India and South Africa—this translates to a national decline twice as rapid as that achieved historically for any power technology in any country, relative to system size. This raises questions about socio-political feasibility. Here we constrain an integrated assessment model to the Powering Past Coal Alliance’s differentiated phase-out timelines of 2030 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/European Union and 2050 elsewhere which, for large coal consumers, lies within the range of historical transitions. We find that limiting warming to 1.5 °C then requires CO2 emissions reductions in the global North to be 50% more rapid than if this socio-political reality is ignored. This additional mitigation is focused on Europe and the United States, in transport and industry and implies more rapid decline in global oil and gas production.

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Fig. 1: Decline in fossil fuel usage from 2020 to 2030 in IPCC 1.5 °C low-overshoot pathways and in TIAM-UCL.
Fig. 2: Countries’ fastest 10-year declines in a technology’s generation share, 1960–2018 for OECD countries and 1971–2017/18 for non-OECD countries.
Fig. 3: Coal power decline 2020–2030 under climate constraints compared with historical power transitions.
Fig. 4: Energy system implications of PPCA constraint in 1.5 °C scenario.
Fig. 5: CO2 emissions with and without PPCA constraint in the 1.5 °C scenario.

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Data availability

The results data and key source data in the figures (including those in Supplementary Information) are available via Zenodo at (ref. 55).

Code availability

The underlying code (mathematical equations) for the model is available via GitHub ( The full model database is also available via Zenodo ( Given the complexity of the model, further guidance will be provided on model assumptions upon reasonable request from the corresponding author.


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We thank S. Bi, R. Bridle, W. McDowall, G. Peters, M. Phillips and S. Raizada for their reviews of the draft manuscript. For J.P. and D.W., this work has been supported by the UK Energy Research Centre Phase 4 (grant no. EP/S029575/1).

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Authors and Affiliations



G.M. designed the study, with contributions from S.P. G.M. compiled the historical data and conducted the comparison of the phase-out pace. J.P., S.P. and D.W. conducted the TIAM-UCL modelling, with contributions from G.M. S.P. led on the presentation of the modelling results. D.W. led on the Supplementary Information. G.M. led on the drafting of the manuscript, with contributions from all authors.

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Correspondence to Greg Muttitt.

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Nature Climate Change thanks Gang He and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Sections 1–6, including Tables 1–12, Figs. 1 and 2 and additional methodological detail.

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Muttitt, G., Price, J., Pye, S. et al. Socio-political feasibility of coal power phase-out and its role in mitigation pathways. Nat. Clim. Chang. 13, 140–147 (2023).

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