The number of coal-fired power plants in pre-construction fell by almost half (48%) in 2016 after governments dropped hundreds of projects.
A new report says the dramatic decline was driven mostly by India and China, whose governments are moving away from coal in favour of cleaner energy.
China’s central government paused plans for the equivalent of 600 coal-fired plans following the introduction of new energy targets.
Meanwhile, banks’ reluctance to invest in Indian coal-fired units forced the government to put 13 sites on hold.
The report, which was compiled by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm, also reported a 62% drop in construction starts.
Ted Nace, director of CoalSwarm, said: “This has been a messy year, and an unusual one.
“It’s not normal to see construction frozen at scores of locations, but central authorities in China and bankers in India have come to recognize overbuilding of coal plants as a major waste of resources.
“However abrupt, the shift from fossil fuels to clean sources in the power sector is a positive one for health, climate security, and jobs. And by all indications, the shift is unstoppable.”
China’s decision to drop hundreds of plants came as thousands of residents of Beijing were forced to flee the capital as pollution soared to dangerous levels.
More than 700 coal and other industrial plants were forced to cease production amid the pollution crisis over the winter months.
The study’s author said the slowdown raises hopes that limiting global warming to under 2 degrees celsius is “within feasible reach”.