One of the biggest historical drivers of global warming, global coal consumption hit a “historic high” last year. And demand for the exceedingly polluting substance keeps on rising, with consumption expected to continue in 2023.
In 2022, coal consumption rose by 3.3% to 8.3 billion tonnes – a new record according to the IEA’s mid-year Coal Market Update, published on Thursday.
Strong growth for coal in 2022 was driven by Asia, notably for power generation and general industrial applications. In the EU, growth in coal demand was minimal although coal power generation spiked as some countries – including Germany – fired up dormant coal stations to make up for the shortfall in gas and nuclear power plants. But on aggregate, this was largely offset by a lower use in industry.
In 2023-2024, small declines in coal-fired power generation will likely be offset by a rise in the industrial use of coal, the report predicts.
China, India, and Southeast Asian countries are expected to represent almost three-quarters of all coal consumed this year. European coal use is expected to drop sharply this year as the EU increases its renewable energy provision. Falling gas prices are also seeing the US shift away from coal.
In the first half of this year, global coal demand is estimated to have grown by around 1.5% to around 4.7 billion tonnes, driven by a 1% increase in power generation and 2% in industrial applications. The IEA notes that after the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine, coal markets were now starting to stabilise.
For reference, coal is one of the most polluting fuel sources currently used in producing energy and for industry. When burned, coal produces large amounts of sulphur dioxide, which causes acid rain, as well as smog-causing gases such as Nitrogen oxides and small particulate matter.
In the US alone, it is estimated that burning coal accounted for 20% of the US’ total energy-related CO2 emissions and nearly 60% of CO2 emissions for producing electricity.
Data shows that progress made by the EU and its Western partners to pivot away from using coal-fired power plants and coal in industrial processes has been almost entirely offset by its increased use in developing Eastern countries.
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In the first half of 2023, coal demand fell by 24% and 16% in the United States and the European Union, respectively. However, demand from the two largest consumers, China and India, grew by over 5% in the same period, “more than offsetting declines elsewhere.”
“Coal is the single largest source of carbon emissions from the energy sector, and in Europe and the United States, the growth of clean energy has put coal use into structural decline,” said IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security Keisuke Sadamori. “But demand remains stubbornly high in Asia, even as many of those economies have significantly ramped up renewable energy sources.”
The IEA official called for greater policy efforts and investments into the transition from dirty fuel sources into clean energy, especially in developing economies with expanding energy needs.