UCL Energy Institute


Coal phase-out alone not fast enough, developed countries must speed up oil and gas exit for 1.5°C

8 February 2023

New study finds that existing pathways to limit global warming to 1.5°C propose phasing out coal faster than is feasible for coal-dependent developing countries, and developed nations must do more.

Aerial photo of power station

IPCC pathways are underestimating how much developed countries must cut carbon emissions to limit warming to 1.5°C and how fast oil and gas should be phased out globally, according to a new study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change.

The study was conducted by climate researchers at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and UCL Energy Institute.

The existing global pathways compatible with 1.5°C rely heavily on phasing out coal power as the primary way to cut emissions while putting less emphasis on the other two fossil fuels, oil and gas. They propose phasing out coal power at a pace that is unlikely to be socially feasible in major coal-dependent developing countries.

The relative pace of phasing out coal, oil and gas was a central issue at the last two international climate summits, where coal consumers such as India and China objected to the disproportionate focus on coal by developed countries compared to oil and gas.

This new research finds that in 1.5°C pathways, coal power would have to be phased out in India, China, and South Africa more than twice as fast as any power sector transition in the last 50 years, in any fuel and any country, relative to system size. This historical period includes rapid changes due to policies (such as responding to the 1970s oil price crisis) and political events (such as wars, sanctions and the collapse of the Soviet Union), suggesting that exceeding this pace of change may not be socially feasible.

Recognizing different countries’ situations, the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), a coalition of governments and businesses, has proposed that developed countries phase out coal power generation by 2030 and developing countries by 2050. According to the new research, developing countries would still need to reduce their coal power generation by one third by 2030, including by closing the most polluting plants—a faster decline than those governments are currently planning. The research finds that this differentiated pace would put several countries at the limit of historical transitions, suggesting that it is difficult but feasible.

The researchers found that in order to achieve a 1.5°C target with this PPCA pace of coal phase-out, developed countries must reduce carbon emissions roughly 50% faster than when these speed limits are neglected. They also found that global oil and gas use must be phased out faster—for example, United States oil production up to 2050 is 20% lower than in a default 1.5°C pathway.

James Price, Senior Research Associate at UCL Energy Institute, said: 

It is critical that pathways to a 1.5°C future fairly distribute the efforts needed to get there, as this is likely to be a key prerequisite to reaching a global agreement to phase out all fossil fuels. Our study sets out just how important it is for models to map out a route to a 1.5°C future that better reflects the realities of the real world.


Report authors from UCL Energy Institute: