by Mary Anne Hitt: Attending the Paris climate conference in December 2015 is one of the major highlights of my climate activism career…
Being with so many amazing people from around the world left me inspired and energized. And while I was greatly disappointed that Trump intends to withdraw the U.S. from that historic international climate agreement, one year after that move we’re still making some phenomenal progress against climate change — especially in reducing our reliance on coal, which was our biggest source of climate pollution for decades.
As I’ve said many times (including in my column last week), no matter what Trump says, coal is not coming back. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement didn’t magically revive the declining coal industry. Americans know that coal is dirty, expensive, and contributes significantly to climate pollution.
Just this week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that coal consumption by the U.S. electric power sector reached its lowest level since 1982, and overall fossil fuel consumption in the electric sector is at its lowest level since 1994. That’s a remarkable shift, one driven by grassroots advocacy.
Since Trump was elected, almost 22,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plants have been retired — that’s a rate of about one coal plant retirement every 19 days! Just since June 1 of last year, when Trump announced the Paris withdrawal, 16 plants have stopped burning coal and another 16 have announced they will soon stop burning coal. There’s a lot more to come, as clean energy continues to skyrocket. This year is poised to be the second-biggest ever for coal retirements, and we aren’t slowing down. That continued progress in shifting U.S. electricity from coal to renewable energy will be the single biggest driver for meeting our Paris commitment, despite Trump.
The world is moving forward on climate progress without us, as well. Since Trump was elected, 72 countries have formally joined the Paris Agreement. Twenty-nine of those countries have formally joined the agreement since Trump announced his intention to leave on June 1.
When it comes to coal, much of the world is moving on as well. The Boom and Bust report on the status of the global coal plant pipeline showed that for the second year in a row, the number of coal-fired power plants under development worldwide dropped steeply in 2017. This drop was led by major declines in China and India. It found a 28 percent year-on-year drop in newly completed coal plants (41 percent in the past two years), a 29 percent year-on-year drop in construction starts (73 percent in the past two years), and a 22 percent drop in plants in permitting and planning (59 percent over the past two years).
What’s more, many leaders have decided to abandon coal altogether. Led by the UK and Canada, 36 countries and sub-national governments have recently committed to end their reliance on coal under the new Powering Past Coal Alliance.
So while we of course want the U.S. to be a committed member of the Paris Agreement, in the meantime American activists and activists worldwide will continue to move beyond coal and toward clean energy. Together we know that wind and solar power won’t poison our air or water, won’t cause climate pollution, and in fact will be a better economic boon to our communities. Join us!