Sustainability Energy

Coal power heading toward all-time high this year

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Story at a glance

  • The International Energy Agency released its Coal 2021 report, and the results predicted a rise in coal production and demand.
  • The increases are driven by a sharp rise in electricity demand, which is growing faster than low-carbon supplies can manage.
  • IEA said China, India and the U.S. are the three main culprits in this year’s rise in coal use for power generation.

Just as scientists have been urging clean energy alternatives to slow climate change, a new report predicts production for a certain fossil fuel is about to hit an all time high.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) released its Coal 2021 report, and the results are bleak for climate change efforts after the group forecasted coal demand, supply and trade based on international consumption trends. The group forecasted that coal-fired power generation is set to reach an all-time high this year as electricity demand outpaced low-carbon supply.

The report explained how global coal power generation is expected to increase by 9 percent in 2021, and it’s driven by this year’s rapid economic recovery as nations across the world adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. IEA says electricity demand has risen much faster than low-carbon supplies can manage and also resulted in a steep rise in natural gas prices. Both of those factors have increased the demand for coal power, making it a more cost-competitive option.

In a press release, IEA explained how this undermines efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and potentially puts global coal demand on course for an all-time high in 2021, 2022 and remain at that level for the following two years. 

Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, said in a statement, “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.”


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Collaborative efforts worldwide are desperately needed, scientists say, as they raise red flags and encourage urgent action to keep the Earth from warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius. The United Nations’ Emissions Gap Report said annual greenhouse gas emission must be reduced in the next eight years in order to avoid catastrophic changes to Earth’s climate.

IEA looked at which countries are driving an increase in 2021’s coal use in power generation and found three main culprits. China’s coal consumption is expected to increase by 4 percent, while coal demand rises by 13 percent in India and 17 percent in the U.S. 

However, IEA said coal demand is anticipated to grow more slowly after the strong economic recovery of 2021, but is still on track to rise to an all time high in 2024. 

IEA’s report noted that recent pledges by countries, including China and India, should carry strong implications for coal but it’s not yet visible in the near-term forecast because there’s still a major gap between ambition and action. 

“The fate of coal depends on how quickly and effectively countries move to implement their net zero commitments. And the level of coal demand in a net zero carbon economy will depend on how successful efforts are to deploy carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies,” said the report.

IEA’s Coal 2021 report comes shortly after President Biden was dealt a serious blow to his Build Back Better legislation, which included a $555 billion package made up of various tax credits, grants and other policies aimed to lower U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.


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