November 22, 2022 - Coal may seem like the power source of yesteryear. After all, the United States has spent more than a decade retiring coal-fired power plants and boosting clean energy, as countries around the world pledge to combat climate change.
But global coal use is not declining — and may actually produce a record amount of planet-warming pollution by the end of the year.
Despite significant reductions in the United States, where coal plants have shuttered in droves since 2010, global emissions from burning coal remain relatively flat. That’s mostly because Europe and Asia have ramped up production as they struggle with the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, writes POLITICO E&E News reporter Benjamin Storrow.
Transitioning away from coal, the leading source of global carbon dioxide, is key for zeroing out heat-trapping pollution and staving off the worst effects of climate change. Recognizing this, nearly 200 countries agreed to phase down coal during last year’s global climate talks in Scotland.
But progress has been slow, if nonexistent. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only made it more difficult. Europe, seeking to replace Russian natural gas, has powered up long-shuttered coal plants. Coal generation was up 8 percent through September on the continent, compared with last year. As winter begins, European countries are looking to shore up supplies, which could boost coal output further.
Global coal generation would probably be even higher if not for an economic lull in China, the world’s largest coal market. Overall, global coal capacity has doubled in the last 20 years, and the majority of new plants are being built in Asia.
And that has created a new market for U.S. coal miners. Pennsylvania-based Consol Energy told investors it was bullish on exports to India, where the company’s coal is being burned in the industrial sector. India — the world’s second-largest coal burner — has also doubled down on the fuel in response to soaring natural gas prices.
“Global coal use and emissions have essentially plateaued at a high level, with no definitive signs of an imminent reduction,” the International Energy Agency concluded in a report released this month.
The upshot: Coal’s surprising tenacity only underscores the difficulty in curbing the world’s most carbon-intensive fuel.