The British insurer Prudential is working with the Asian Development Bank on a scheme to buy out coal-fired power plants in Asia in order to shut them down within 15 years.
Its backers say the plan is designed to limit use of the polluting fossil fuel while allowing workers time to find new jobs and incentivising countries to invest in clean energy alternatives.
The Guardian understands there have been “promising” early talks with Asian governments and multilateral banks about the programme, known as the “energy transition mechanism” (ETM), which could also include the banking groups HSBC, Citi and BlackRock Real Assets.
Don Kanak, the chair of Prudential Insurance Growth Markets, said that a “well funded mechanism like ETM” could help developing countries “make big progress on climate goals in the next 10-15 years, not deferring the heavy lifting until mid-century”.
“The world cannot possibly hit the Paris climate targets unless we accelerate the retirement and replacement of existing coal-fired electricity, opening up much larger room in the near term for renewables and storage,” Kanak said.
“This is especially [true] in Asia, where existing coal fleets are big and young and will otherwise operate for decades. That’s why we conceived the energy transition mechanism and worked with ADB and others to validate feasibility.”
Prudential and ADB hope to have a model ready for the UN’s Cop26 climate conference, which is being held in Glasgow in November. Alok Sharma, a former UK business secretary and now president-designate of Cop26, said he would make it a “personal priority” to consign coal to history because of the major role it plays in the climate crisis by accounting for about a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Kanak added that the framework had already been presented to finance ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the European Commission and European development officials.
A spokesperson for the ADB was not available to comment on the plans.
The potential role of big UK lenders in the scheme, first reported by Reuters, has raised eyebrows among climate campaigners because of the recent track record among many banks in financing new coal plants in Asia.
Adam McGibbon, a campaigner at Market Forces, which calls for financial institutions to use their wealth to protect the environment, said the initiative would “only have meaning if HSBC commits to no longer finance the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and phases out its fossil fuel financing in line with the goals of the Paris agreement. Otherwise, this is just HSBC trying to make money from both ends of the climate catastrophe,” he said.
HSBC has vowed to phase out coal financing by 2040 but participated earlier this year in a $400m (GBP290m) loan to the Indonesian coal company Adaro Energy, which produced 54m tonnes of coal in 2020.
A spokesperson for HSBC said the company “has a clear net zero ambition”.