World’s attempts to shake off coal hampered by steady Chinese demand

17 Dec 2019

Image: © Philippe/

While Europe and other parts of the world are scaling back their demand for coal, China plans to keep using it.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its Coal 2019 report, detailing global market demands for the fossil fuel. Today, coal accounts for 40pc of all electricity generated and 40pc of all energy-related carbon emissions.

The report found that while a hunger for coal in the US and the EU is falling, demand in China, India and south-east Asia is rising to cater to their developing economies. Over the course of 2018, global coal use grew by 1.1pc, continuing the rebound that began in 2017 after three years of decline.

This increase was due to coal power generation, which grew by 2pc last year to reach an all-time high, with demand for coal remaining stable in China. Production of the fuel also grew by 3.3pc, with four of the six largest producers in the world having increased their output, and three of these – India, Russia and Indonesia – producing their largest outputs ever.

Meanwhile, Australia’s coal exports amounted to record revenues of $67bn. The report found that as power generation from renewables is increasing in India – which aims to be a $5trn economy by 2024 – coal power is expected to jump by 4.6pc per year, which is more than any other country.

‘This is not the end of coal’

Despite China leading the world in coal consumption, the IEA’s forecasting predicted that its share of power generation will fall from 67pc in 2018 to 59pc in 2024, with a plateau in demand by 2022.

In Europe, intense pressure from the EU and industry has resulted in coal’s competitiveness being “shattered” by natural gas, with wind and solar seeing their shares of power generation increase in 2019. It’s expected that coal generation will fall by 5pc per year through 2024.

Despite US president Donald Trump’s promises of saving the country’s coal industry, shale gas is seen as having significantly more use in the years ahead. US coal demand is expected to decline 4pc year on year, and coal’s share in US electricity supplies will fall from 28pc in 2018 to 21pc in 2024.

“Wind and solar are growing rapidly in many parts of the world. With investment in new plants drying up, coal power capacity outside Asia is clearly declining and will continue to do so in the coming years,” said Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA’s director of energy markets and security.

“But this is not the end of coal, since demand continues to expand in Asia. The region’s share of global coal power generation has climbed from just over 20pc in 1990 to almost 80pc in 2019, meaning coal’s fate is increasingly tied to decisions made in Asian capitals.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic