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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.

February 6, 2023

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