Coal-fired power generation set to hit ‘record high in 2021’, says IEA


Coal pictured in front of the towers of a coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga, South Africa, October 15, 2021.

Waldo Swieger | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Coal-fired power generation is set to hit a record high this year, according to a report by the International Energy Agency, with the organization’s executive director calling for urgent action to mitigate emissions from the sector.

The IEA’s Coal 2021 report noted that the world’s coal-fired power generation was on a trajectory that would see it increase by 9% in 2021, reaching 10,350 terawatt hours.

In an announcement on Friday, the IEA said the rebound was “driven by this year’s rapid economic recovery, which has driven up demand for electricity much faster than low-carbon supplies can. “.

A sharp rise in natural gas prices had also “increased demand for coal-fired power making it more cost competitive”.

In terms of global coal demand, which relates to areas such as steel and cement production as well as power generation, it is expected to grow by 6% in 2021.

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The IEA report says global coal demand “may well reach a new all-time high over the next two years.” In terms of coal production, the IEA said it was “expected to peak in 2022 and then plateau as demand flattens”.

In a statement released alongside the report, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol described coal as “the largest source of global carbon emissions, and the historically high level of electricity generation This year’s coal program is a worrying sign of how far the world has come in its efforts to reduce emissions to net zero.”

“Without strong and immediate action by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and safe for those affected – we will have little, if any, chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. “, said Birol. .

Birol’s reference to global warming is a nod to the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit heating “to well below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels. “.

The challenge is immense, and the United Nations has noted that 1.5 degrees Celsius is considered “the upper limit” when it comes to avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.

Although it remains an important source of electricity, coal has a substantial effect on the environment and the US Energy Information Administration lists a range of emissions from burning coal. These include carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates and nitrogen oxides.

Elsewhere, Greenpeace has described coal as “the dirtiest and dirtiest way to produce energy”.

“When burned, it releases more carbon dioxide than oil or gas, so it’s a big deal when it comes to climate change,” the environmental group said.

“Coal also produces toxic elements like mercury and arsenic, as well as small soot particles that contribute to air pollution.”

The discussion and debate surrounding coal is often emotional, given its large environmental footprint and the enormity of the task when it comes to reducing the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The IEA report comes just over a month after the end of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

The deal struck at COP26 aimed to build on the Paris Agreement and stave off the worst effects of climate change, though it ran into obstacles from coal phase-outs, subsidies fossil fuels and financial support for low-income countries.

India and China, both among the world’s biggest coal-burners, have insisted on a last-minute change in the language of fossil fuels in the pact – from a “phase-out” of coal to a “phase-out”. “. After initial objections, the opposing countries eventually relented.

The IEA noted that global coal trends would be “shaped largely by China and India, which account for two-thirds of global coal consumption, despite their efforts to increase renewable energy and other sources. low-carbon energy”.

– CNBC’s Matt Clinch contributed to this report

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