Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, S. Korea, Ukraine Commit to Phasing Out Coal Power

At least 23 nations, including five notable coal-dependent countries—Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, South Korea, and Ukraine—made new commitments during the COP26 conference in Scotland on Nov. 4 to phase out unabated coal power.

In total, 47 countries supported the “Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement” at the international climate talks underway in Glasgow. In the statement, they committed to cease new construction of and issuance of new permits for “new unabated” coal-fired plants and end “new” direct government support for unabated international coal generation. In addition, the countries are committed to “rapidly scaling up deployment” of clean power generation and boosting energy efficiency measures. They will also work to “rapidly scale up technologies and policies” over the next 10 years to support a transition away from coal in the 2030s for major economies and in the 2040s globally. 

Along with Indonesia, Vietnam, Poland, South Korea, and Ukraine, countries that signed the statement include Albania, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Chile, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Philippines, Portugal, Senegal, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Sri Lanka, the UK, and Zambia.

The coal phaseout newcomers on Thursday also joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), a coalition launched by the UK and Canada, and whose membership comprises national and sub-national governments, businesses, and organizations that are working to transition away from unabated coal power. In a statement, the PPCA, which is now the world’s largest alliance on phasing out coal, said its membership now includes 165 countries, cities, regions, and businesses. POWER estimates that with Thursday’s commitments, nearly 70 countries have now committed to no new unabated coal, a figure that may expand as the climate talks continue in Glasgow through next week.

According to independent European climate change think tank E3G, while some committing countries had no coal capacity, the declarations by major coal power producers could substantially affect the future of coal power. As of July 2021, countries with the five biggest pre-construction coal power pipelines included China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey, and Bangladesh, it noted. So far, at least 1,175 GW of planned coal-fired power projects have been canceled globally since 2015, E3G has reported. “Accelerating market trends have combined with new government policies and sustained civil society opposition to coal,” the think tank, which has a global outlook, has said. 

Indonesia’s commitment to phase out coal is especially remarkable, given that it has 87 operating coal plants with a combined capacity of 21 GW. On Thursday, the island nation signed the COP26 Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, but it notably excluded “clause 3” as part of its commitment, pledging to reach net-zero by 2060 (or sooner) “with international assistance.” According to an official event press release, Indonesia “will consider accelerating coal phase-out into the 2040s, conditional on agreeing to additional international financial and technical assistance with development partners.” Separately, Indika Energy, a major Indonesian energy company also said it would close its last power plant in 2047.

Ukraine, meanwhile, committed to ending coal power by 2035, a major step for a country that has the third-largest coal fleet in Europe (after Germany and Poland). DTEK, the biggest private investor in Ukraine’s energy sector, also notably joined the PPCA, committing to powering operations without coal by 2040.

Vietnam plans to phase out coal power by the 2040s. Poland, one of Europe’s largest coal consumers, also indicated it would target the 2040 timeframe, a decade earlier than the 2049 date it set earlier this year. And because South Korea’s government adopted a 2050 phase-out plan in late October, POWER is seeking clarification on how the country’s participation in the coal phase-out statement will affect its two approved roadmaps, including one plan to convert its coal plants to liquefied natural gas.

The PPCA noted that Chile, which has been public about its coal phaseout, entered the alliance on Thursday with a pledge “to take significant steps to bring forward its current 2040 phaseout deadline.” Mauritius, meanwhile, plans to phase out its coal use by 2030.

Singapore, the first country in Asia to join the PPCA, has now committed to catalyzing its green finance for the continent’s transition toward greater sustainability, the PPCA noted. And while Slovenia committed to set a coal phaseout date “in the near future,” Croatia, which joined the PPCA in June, announced at COP 26 a 2033 coal phaseout deadline.

In separate announcements this week at COP26, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Africa announced partnerships with the Climate Investment Fund to accelerate their transitions away from coal power, backed by a dedicated $2 billion facility. Indonesia and the Philippines also announced partnerships with the Asian Development Bank to support the early retirement of coal plants. 

At the World Leader’s Summit on Tuesday, notably, participants announced an $8.5 billion deal to support South Africa’s “Just Energy Transition” to clean energy. The funding could help “prevent 1–1.5 [gigatonnes] of emissions over the next 20 years in South Africa, equal to three times annual UK emissions. It could set new precedents for supported transitions in other high-emitting coal-using countries, including Indonesia and India,” a statement from the event read.

Along with action from the long list of countries, a large group of financial institutions have also shown support for related priorities. On Thursday, HSBC, Fidelity International, and Ethos joined the coal phaseout statement. Their commitments follow recent announcements from China, Japan, and South Korea to end overseas coal financing. Separately this week, a group of 25 countries including COP26 partners Italy, Canada, the U.S., and Denmark, along with public finance institutions, signed a UK-led joint statement committing to ending international public support for the unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022.

These efforts suggest “all significant public international financing for coal power has effectively ended,” a COP26 statement on Thursday declared. “This is a historic step. It is the first time a COP presidency has prioritized this issue and put a bold end date on international fossil fuel finance. COP26 has set a new gold standard on the Paris Alignment of international public finance and sends a clear signal for private investors to follow,” it added.

Several local governments and utilities from coal-dependent countries also joined the PPCA on Thursday. These include the U.S. states of Hawaii and Oregon, South Korea’s Jeju province, the Australian Capital Territory Act Government, and Negros Oriental in the Philippines. Separately, the PPCA said its sub-national member additions included the Polish cities of Wałbrzych, a former mining center with a 2030 coal phaseout commitment, and Koszalin, one of the greenest cities in Poland.

Sonal Patel is a POWER senior associate editor (@sonalcpatel@POWERmagazine).

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