IT COULD be seen as coal's obituary notice or at least a sign of the beginning of the end.
And the implications of the research finding will be sharply felt in Australia, which has 16 coal-fired power stations and growing pressure for more, and extensive mining.
Use of the prime fossil fuel is in retreat among our biggest regional trading partners and the rest of the world, according to CoalSwarm, a body which tracks the operation of coal plants.
"After a decade of unprecedented expansion, the amount of coal power capacity under development worldwide saw a dramatic drop in 2016, mainly due to shifting policies and economic conditions in China and India," said CoalSwarm's survey released last week.
"The drop occurred in all stages of coal plant development, including pre-construction planning, construction starts, and in-progress construction."
The CoalSwarm survey found:
• In January 2017 the potential output of coal plants in pre-construction planning was 570 gigawatts, compared to 1090 GW the previous January;
• There had been a 48 per cent drop in pre-construction activity and a 62 per cent drop in construction starts, and a 19 per cent drop in ongoing construction;
• In China and India, 68 per cent of construction is now frozen at over 100 project sites. Worldwide, more construction is now frozen than entered.
The CoalSwarm report says the slowdown in the coal power pipeline brings the possibility of holding global warming to below two degrees from pre-industrial levels more fossil.
But in a separate report released today, the Australia Institute warns Australia's emissions are rising rapidly, in contrast to the United States, China and the rest of the world.
"Australians might be surprised to know that our emissions are rising not falling," said Matt Grudnoff the senior economist at the institute's Climate and Energy project.
"While we have committed to reducing our emissions, since we abolished the carbon price Australia's emissions have only increased. If this trend continues there is no way Australia will meet its Paris target.
"The rest of the world is taking action on climate change. The US and European Union's emissions are falling.
"China's emissions are flat, as are world emissions. Australia is becoming increasingly isolated as a nation failing to reduce its emissions."
Mr Grudnoff said the Government's proposed National Energy Guarantee was "likely to cause our emissions to rise even faster" by encouraging greater fossil fuel use.
The CoalSwarm survey report said the downturn in coal use in China and India was significant because the two countries accounted for 86 per cent of coal power built globally from 2006 through 2016.
It said "the slowdown in these two countries carries global implications".
"An end to the coal plant construction boom brings the possibility of a global phase-out of coal over the coming decades, a prerequisite to reining in climate change.
"In addition to a shrinking coal power pipeline, retirements of older plants have steadily grown in the past decade … including 36,667 MW in 2015 and 27,041 MW in 2016.
CoalSwarm describes itself as "a global network of researchers seeking to develop collaborative informational resources on coal impacts and alternatives. Current projects include identifying and mapping proposed and existing coal projects worldwide, including plants, mines and infrastructure."
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