HomeEnvironment & Climate NewsWorld Coal Production and Use Increased in 2021, All-Time Highs Approached

World Coal Production and Use Increased in 2021, All-Time Highs Approached

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports worldwide coal demand, including for steel production, is approaching an all-time high.

Global coal demand fell by 4 percent in the pandemic year 2020, the biggest decline since World War II, but coal demand surged in 2021 as economies rebounded from the 2020 lockdowns. The IEA projects coal use will rise at an annual rate of 6 percent through 2024, surpassing its previous all-time high for use sometime in 2022.

The rapid rise in coal-fueled power generation across Asia accounted for three-quarters of the rebound in 2021. Yet even in the European Union and the United States, the post-pandemic rebound resulted in 20 percent gains in coal-fired power generation from 2020.

The greatest increases in coal demand are in the power generation sector, which recovered from two down years with a 9 percent rise in 2021 to an all-time high of 10,350 terawatt-hours, according to the IEA’s Coal 2021 report.

According to the IEA, the gap between the political commitments to meet net zero carbon dioxide emissions and the realities of the electric power demand and the increasing use of coal to satisfy it, is widening.

China’s Number One

Demand for inexpensive, reliable electric power in Asian nations explains most of rise in coal usage.

Coal-fueled power generation is expected to rise by 12 percent in India and 9 percent in China, in 2022.

Although China pledged to reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2060, the IEA reports it currently accounts for half of global coal-fueled power generation, and that use is growing.

The new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) notes recent power shortages and rolling blackouts in China led to calls for even greater reliance on coal-fired power generation by the Xi administration and for Chinese banks to increase financing for coal mines and power plants.

China, the world’s largest coal importer, already has 1,080 gigawatts of coal-fired power generation, about five times the installed coal-fired capacity in the United States.

India and Australia Follow Suit

India is not only the second largest coal importer, the nation also has significant coal reserves.

Coal is a “mainstay” of India’s energy system, the CSIS report added, providing over 70 percent of the nation’s electricity, and the coal also provides 4 million Indians with direct or indirect jobs.

The Modi government, desperate to increase domestic coal production, is rapidly auctioning off coal reserves to private companies.

The CSIS report’s authors Sandeep Pai and Jane Nakano also note Australia, which produces five times as much coal per person as second-place South Africa, is unlikely to phase out coal production any time soon.

Their view is shared by The Australian, the nation’s largest newspaper, which says criticism of the country as the world’s largest exporter of coal, “looks ridiculous” in the face of rising coal consumption in Asia, Europe, and the United States. The newspaper said the trend in coal consumption explains why world leaders could not reach agreement on exiting fossil fuel usage at the Glasgow climate summit.

China, India, and Australia together produce and consume around two-thirds of global coal, and each of these nations has major reasons for not signing onto the United Kingdom’s coal phase-out pledge, according to the CSIS report.

The dramatic drop in President Joe Biden’s popularity has unraveled the administration’s climate agenda and left other world leaders in doubt as to the success of the UN climate agenda, surmises The Australian.

World Needs Coal

America’s anti-coal policies are hurting both this nation and nations eager to purchase high-quality Western coal, says Randy Eminger, executive director of the Energy Policy Network.

Eminger also says the developing world cannot grow without inexpensive and reliable energy which coal can deliver.

“Third world nations have realized that low-cost, abundant coal transformed America into a wealthy nation,” Eminger said. “They deserve the basic rights to have electricity.

“It saves lives by powering refrigeration, operating equipment, and manufacturing that creates good jobs,” said Eminger. “The United States should be increasing coal shipments, but instead, west coast states have banned coal shipments, harming the economies of both the United States and coal-hungry nations around the world.”

Duggan Flanakin (dflanakin@gmail.com) writes from Austin, Texas.

Duggan Flanakin
Duggan Flanakin
Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with both the Texas and Arkansas Public Policy Foundations, Mr. Flanakin has a Master's in Public Policy from Regent University. During the years he spent reporting on environmental regulation in Texas and nationwide, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas.

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