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December 14, 2015

Global Climate Agreement Won’t Stop China’s 460,000 Planned Coal-Fired Power Plants

Over the weekend, negotiators from 195 countries announced they had reached a pact to address climate change. While historic, the agreement is short on specifics. As The Hill noted, in general the nations agreed to stop global emissions from rising “as soon as possible” and “to work toward a world in which greenhouse gas emissions are so low that the are completely offset by plants and other things that capture carbon.” 

The countries’ specific goal is to ensure global temperatures increase by no more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures. 

As Secretary of State John Kerry noted repeatedly in several television interviews on Sunday morning, the pact is non-binding and does not include enforcement mechanisms. (The Hill said, “The 31-page pact does not have binding language or a mechanism to force countries to live up to the promises to cut greenhouse gases emissions or provide money for developing and poor nations to cope with the effects of global warming.”) This fact means that the United States will proceed with enactment of President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan while most countries, including the world’s largest polluters, have offered only vague commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Indeed, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce noted in an online commentary piece last week, “Countries like China and India will continue to electrify their countries’ economies with coal so they can continue to lift their citizens out of poverty. Nothing agreed to in Paris will change that, and no one should expect otherwise.” 

The U.S. Chamber post includes a map that shows planned expansion of coal-fired power plants in nations like China and India. China alone has more than 460,000 coal-fired power plants currently planned or under construction. The United States has just 582 plants currently planned or under construction. 

As a reminder, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan will likely lead to electricity price increases in 47 states.