Notwithstanding the promises made to reduce global coal usage during COP-26 conference held in November last year, countries across the world increased its consumption by 450 million tonnes in 2021, more than 6% compared with the previous year.
As economic activity revived following the reduction in COVID-19 cases and increased demand for electricity in many countries, governments began looking at coal to fire their electricity generating stations as it is most affordable fuel.
While coal is cheap to generate electricity, its cost to the environment is much higher as coal is the major source of energy-related Carbon emissions.
Leaders attending COP-26 summit last year expressed concern over the spurt in coal consumption and 40 countries have agreed not to issue permits for new coal-fired power plants. They even pledged to shut down such existing plants to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2070.
The positive aspect of the COP-26 meet has been that 15 EU countries signing the pledge, the EU is forecasted to see the greatest drop in coal production at 82 million tonnes, along with the greatest forecasted reduction in coal consumption (101 million tonnes, a 23% reduction).
No Commitment from Major Producers
However, many coal-producing countries such as Australia, China, the US, India and Russia did not commit to the pledge. Among these coal producers, only the US is forecast to reduce coal production in the next two years.
Besides, Indonesia also plans to phase out coal production in the coming years. The US is projected to cut coal production by 7.5% or 44 million tonnes, while Indonesia’s reduction is forecasted at 6 million tonnes, or 1% cut of its 2021 production.
In fact, 85% of U.S. electric generating capacity retirements in 2022 are forecast to be coal-fired generators, and there are further plans to retire 28% (59 GW) of currently operational coal-fired capacity by 2035.
EU Keeps Its Word
While Poland has closed its 628 MW coal based thermal unit – Pego Power Station – on November 20 marking the end of coal-fired power generation in Portugal. By doing so, it became the fourth nation in EU after Belgium, Austria, and Sweden, to stop using coal as primary fuel to generate electricity.
“Portugal is the perfect example of how once a country commits to quitting coal, the pace of the phase out inevitably accelerates. The benefits of transitioning to renewables are so great, once started, it only makes sense to get out of coal as fast as possible,” said Kathrin Gutmann, Europe Beyond Coal campaign director.
“Coal’s dire economics and public desire for climate action are driving faster and faster phase outs across Europe. The challenge now is to ensure utilities do not make the mistake of replacing coal with fossil gas, or unsustainable biomass,” Kathrin said.
India and China
On the other hand, China and India produce almost 60% of the world’s coal, and are expected to increase their production by more than 200 million tonnes per year, collectively. All this coal goes towards meeting the growing demand for energy of both nations.
China has announced to reduce coal consumption in 2026 but has plans to construct 43 new coal-fired power plants to meet energy demand until then. Part of the additional production is driven by a need to reduce its dependence on coal imports, which are expected to drop by 51 million tonnes or 16% from 2021–2024.
By 2024, China’s coal consumption is forecasted to rise by 3.3% and India’s by 12.2%, which would make the two countries responsible for two-thirds of the world’s coal consumption.