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World Bank should fund coal plant retrofits

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World Coal,

Over the last year, a number of global and regional development banks, including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, have said they will no longer fund the construction of new coal-fired power plants. But according to a new report from the Broookings Institute, finance from such institutions – and particularly the World Bank – for retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants in middle-income countries could play a helpful role in improving public health and reducing emissions.

The report – “Retrofitting coal-fired power plants in middle-income countries: what role for the World Bank” – studied the technologies in use in more than 2000 coal-fired power plants currently in operation, under construction or planned in middle-income countries. Of these, 70% rely on old, inefficient technologies where retrofitting with best available technology (BAT) would “reduce pollution, increase efficiency and save lives”.

Yet only about 3% of these plants actually have retrofit technologies in place as, according to the report, middle-income countries are much less likely to enforce – and in some cases have in place – the restrictions on air pollutants associated with coal-fired power that developed countries do.

As a result, “without widespread enforcement of air quality standards, the private sector has little incentive to add both to the capital and operation and maintenance costs of a plant. This means that inefficient, harmful existing coal plants are unlikely to be retrofitted in time.”

World Bank funding thus offers an alternative approach to encouraging the retrofit of old plants, with the health and environmental benefits this brings, and should be offered within the context of broader policy efforts to abate national and regional climare pollution, concludes the report: “retrofit projects done in this way could help to secure outsized health gains to the millions of people living in extreme poverty across middle-income countries without putting the planet in even greater jeopardy.”

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