In a warming world with record concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a new analysis from environmental think tank World Resources Institute found that the global number of coal-fired power plants could increase significantly.
"Global Coal Risk Assessment: Data Analysis and Market Research," released on November 20, estimated there are currently 1,199 proposed coal plants in 59 countries. They noted that China and India together account for 76 percent of these plants. The United States landed seventh, with 36 proposed coal-fired power plants.
WRI's Ailun Yang noted, "If all of these projects are built, it would add new coal power capacity that is almost four times the current capacity of all coal-fired plants in the United States."
The report -- the first of its kind from WRI -- includes information on proposed power plant projects from a variety of sources, including commercial databases, governments, NGOs and the media. The authors noted, "The decision to include a project in this collection does not take into consideration whether the project is officially seeking approval, what the timeline of the project construction is or the likelihood of the project being built eventually." The organization acknowledged things are "fast-changing" and said the "paper [is] a living database."
According to WRI, "Coal-fired power plants are the largest contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change." The WRI analysis, conducted in July 2012, comes as environmentalists warn that an estimated 80 percent of the world's proven oil, coal and natural gas reserves must remain in the ground, unburned, to avoid the release of enough carbon dioxide to warm the planet above the internationally agreed upon limit of two degrees Celsius.
Author Bill McKibben explained in a piece for Rolling Stone the two-degree number first gained traction at a 1995 climate conference. Since then, 167 countries responsible for more than 87 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions have signed on to the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, and endorsed the two-degree target. Yet, according to McKibben, "many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target."
Find a map below of proposed coal-fired power plants, courtesy of WRI: