The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that coal use must be largely phased out by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.
Despite this, the carbon-intensive fuel is set to reach record levels of use in 2022, according to the 11th annual Coal Market Report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
“The world is close to a peak in fossil fuel use, with coal set to be the first to decline, but we are not there yet,” IEA Director of Energy Markets and Security Keisuke Sadamori said in a press release. “Coal demand is stubborn and will likely reach an all-time high this year, pushing up global emissions.”
The world’s coal consumption is set to reach a new high in 2022 amid the energy crisis— International Energy Agency (@IEA) December 16, 2022
While the growth in coal use in Europe is set to be temporary, stronger efforts will be needed to bring down demand in the years ahead
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Despite the warnings of scientists, coal remains the world’s leading electricity source; the main energy source for cement, iron and steel production; and world’s No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2021, the IEA had predicted that coal could peak in 2022 or 2023, according to the report’s Executive Summary. This appears likely to be the case, with demand on track to increase by 1.2 percent for a record high of more than eight billion tonnes. This would beat the previous high set in 2013, according to the press release.
Coal use in 2022 was influenced by a number of factors that, in some cases, worked against each other, meaning the fuel did not peak as high as it might have.
The energy crisis spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raised gas prices, leading many places to turn to coal instead, most notably Europe, according to the Executive Summary. At the same time, economic decline and increased renewable use has offset some of this increase. While coal use for electricity generation is set to increase by more than two percent, coal use in industry is likely to decrease by more than one percent.
In China, which is responsible for 53 percent of global coal consumption, the economic slowdown caused by continued coronavirus lockdowns counteracted a turn to coal during the summer as a drought and heat waves decreased hydroelectric power but increased air conditioning demand.
In addition to consumption, coal-based electricity generation is projected to reach a record of 10.3 terawatt hours in 2022 and coal production is on track to increase 5.4 percent to another record of 8.3 billion tonnes, as Reuters reported.
What’s perhaps more concerning than this year’s peak is that 2022’s coal consumption levels are set to hold steady through 2025 unless governments take additional steps to speed the energy transition. Europe’s surge in coal use is expected to be temporary, but a decrease in coal use there is projected to be offset by economic growth in Asia, according to the press release.
There are some hopeful signs. By 2025, coal demand in Europe should fall to below 2020 levels. And, while the world’s top three coal producers of China, India and Indonesia are set to bring production to record levels in 2022, there is no sign of a corresponding surge in investments in coal export projects. This suggests that mining companies and international finance are worried about coal’s long term prospects.
“[T]here are many signs that today’s crisis is accelerating the deployment of renewables, energy efficiency and heat pumps – and this will moderate coal demand in the coming years,” Sadamori said in the press release. “Government policies will be key to ensuring a secure and sustainable path forward.”