China’s coal power output – around half the global total – is expected to grow by 9 per cent this year, undermining efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said.
Global power generation from coal is also expected to jump by 9 per cent this year to an all-time high of 10,350 terawatt-hours, after falling in 2019 and 2020, potentially putting demand for the fossil fuel on course to reach a record high next year, according to the IEA’s Coal 2021 report released on Friday.
“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,” said Fatih Birol, executive director at IEA.
“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.”
At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last month, global leaders urged greater efforts to reduce the use of coal power and phase out fossil fuel subsidies. Over 190 countries agreed to reducing emissions to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and ideally 1.5 degrees by 2100 from pre-industrial levels. However, the average global temperature last year was already 1.2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
The rebound in global coal power generation was driven by the rapid economic recovery this year, which pushed up electricity demand much faster than low-carbon supplies could keep up. China’s power generation, including district heating, accounts for one-third of global coal consumption, while the country’s coal use is more than half of the world total, according to the IEA.
Overall coal demand worldwide, including uses beyond power generation such as cement and steel production, is forecast to grow by 6 per cent in 2021, according to the IEA. While the increase will not take demand above the record levels it reached in 2013 and 2014, overall coal demand could reach all-time highs as soon as 2022, depending on weather patterns and economic growth, and remain at that level for the following two years, underscoring the need to fast and strong policy action, the IEA said.
Despite China’s coal shortage and the corresponding implications for industrial production and electricity demand, the country’s coal consumption is expected to increase by 4 per cent to 4.13 billion tonnes in 2021, surpassing the record high in 2013, the report said. China’s coal consumption is forecast to reach 4.27 billion tonnes in 2024, increasing by 1.1 per cent per year on average, to satisfy its power sector needs.
The country will still have to rely on coal and to a lesser extent gas to keep pace with the country’s rising electricity demand, despite the expansion of its nuclear and renewable energy capacities, the IEA added.
China’s electricity demand growth is estimated at 10 per cent for 2021, reflecting the country’s “strong economy recovery as well as a cold snap in the north and a warmer-than-average summer”, according to the report.
“The pledges to reach net zero emissions made by many countries, including China and India, should have very strong implications for coal – but these are not yet visible in our near-term forecast, reflecting the major gap between ambitions and action,” said Keisuke Sadamori, director of energy markets and security at the IEA.
“Asia dominates the global coal market, with China and India accounting for two-thirds of overall demand. These two economies – dependent on coal and with a combined population of almost 3 billion people – hold the key to future coal demand.”
Beijing announced last September that it would try and reach peak emissions by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2060. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged at the COP26 summit that the world’s third-biggest emitter would reach net-zero by 2070.
“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,” said Dave Jones, global programme lead at energy think tank Ember.
“It will take time for the ship to turn, but time is not on our side to keep 1.5 degrees within reach,” he added.
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