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Global coal use to hit record high despite climate fight

(Stock image.)

Global coal-fired power generation is expected to rise 9% and hit an all-time high by the end of 2021, despite efforts to slash carbon emissions, the International Energy Agency said Friday.

Overall coal demand — including its use in steelmaking, cement and other industrial activities — is expected to grow by 6% in 2021 to 8.11 billion tonnes, the Paris-based group said in its annual report. That puts demand on track to reach a new record high in early 2022 and to remain at that level for the following two years, it said.

Increases in coal demand in Asia will be offset by falling demand in the US and the European Union by 2024, the watchdog noted.

The agency said that renewed demand for the fossil fuel was caused mainly by a faster-than-expected economic recovery, temperature and weather fluctuations that dampened electricity supply and rises gas prices.

“Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year’s historically high level of coal power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

“Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions — in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected — we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” Birol said.

COP26 didn’t help

In November, more than 190 countries reached a deal at the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, that aims to speed up greenhouse-gas emissions cuts and to “phase down” coal use for the future.

A last-minute intervention from India and China weakened efforts to end coal power and fossil fuel subsidies.

“China’s influence on coal markets is difficult to overstate. China’s power generation, including district heating, accounts for one-third of global coal consumption,” the report reads.

Global coal use to hit record high despite climate fight
Source: IEA Coal 2021 Report. (Click to enlarge)

Researchers at Wood Mackenzie recently warned that the expected coal phase-out may take longer than countries are willing to admit.

China currently accounts for about half of the world’s coal production and it may grow, as it needs to meet rising domestic demand. The government has pressured miners to reduce prices and lower the cost of burning coal during this year’s energy crisis, which triggered blackouts and rationing in the country.

India vowed in November to triple its solar-power capacity and meet half of its energy requirements with renewable energy by 2030. Still, the IEA forecasts that India’s coal consumption will grow at around 4% each year through 2024.

“It is disappointing that coal power may hit an all-time high in the very same year that countries agreed to phase it down,” Dave Jones, global program lead at climate think-tank Ember, said in an emailed statement.

“Coal power will inevitably begin to decline soon: China has committed to phasing down coal from 2025, while India’s huge renewables target should remove the need for more coal.”