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Global coal fleet on pace to start shrinking by 2022, green groups say

Major indicators of coal power capacity growth fell by double digits in 2017 for the second year in a row, according to a new report by environmental advocates — and if those trends continue, yearly retirements will exceed new capacity by 2022.

Newly completed coal-fired plants declined 28% year over year in 2017, while construction starts fell 29%, preconstruction activity declined 22% and construction activity decreased by 23%.

The joint report produced by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm also found that global retirements during the year exceeded 25,000 MW. Total global operating capacity as of January was 2,000 GW.

The decline in construction activity and increasing coal plant retirements globally were largely attributed to "central government restrictions in China and declining financial and policy support in India," as well as decreasing capacity in the rest of the world.

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China's coal power capacity under active development fell from 708 GW in 2016 to 211 GW in 2018, while India's declined from 291 GW to 131 GW during that time. For the rest of the world, total coal power capacity under development dropped to 317 GW, from 429 GW in 2016.

Nonetheless, global demand for coal-fired power rose 3.5% year over year in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency, with Asia accounting for the largest increase in coal demand.

The report's authors said "the prospect of an end to coal power expansion" is "arriving late in the game" and encouraged governments to speed up the pace by canceling coal projects and hastening the retirement of aging coal fleets in Europe and the U.S. in order to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.