The United States, represented by John Kerry, the Special Presidential Envoy on Climate, has officially joined a coalition of 57 countries committed to phasing out coal in an effort to combat climate change. This announcement was made at the annual United Nations COP28 climate change summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on December 2nd.
Kerry stated, “To meet our goal of 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035, we need to phase out unabated coal.” He further elaborated that the first step to achieve this is to halt the construction of new coal power plants and work towards shutting down existing ones. However, no specific timeline for the latter was provided by the Biden administration.
This commitment is in line with the goals established in the Paris Agreement in 2015, which aims to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. As of 2022, coal-fired plants remain the largest source of global electricity, contributing 36 percent of the total production.
Over half of the coal-fired electricity comes from China, which is rapidly expanding its coal power capacity despite its public commitments to climate goals. According to reports, China started construction on 50 gigawatts of coal power capacity in 2022, marking a 50 percent increase from the previous year.
In contrast, the demand for coal in the United States increased by 15 percent in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The Global Energy Monitor (GEM) report predicts significant job losses across the globe due to the coal phase-out, with Asia being the most affected. Within the United States, it is estimated that over 15,000 jobs in the coal sector will be lost per decade in the 2030s and ’40s, with less than 15,000 jobs projected to be lost in the 2050s.
Critics have voiced concerns over potential blackouts, limited heating and cooling options, and reduced food availability as a result of the move away from coal. They argue that this could have devastating effects on the United States.