Home » Coal Boom in Asia Defies Global Climate Goals

Coal Boom in Asia Defies Global Climate Goals

A report by Ember shows that coal is still the largest source of electricity and emissions in the world, despite the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

by Motoni Olodun

Despite the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coal remains the dominant source of energy in many parts of Asia. In 2023, coal-fired electricity generation and thermal coal exports reached record highs, driven by rising demand from China, India, Vietnam, and other countries.

According to a report by the environmental think tank Ember, coal-fired electricity generation was 8 295 terawatt hours (TWh) through October, up 1% from the same period in 2022 and the highest on record. Emissions from coal-fired electricity generation also hit new highs, topping 7.85 billion tons of carbon dioxide and equivalent gases, around 66.7 million tons more than in 2022.

The report also found that coal’s share of global electricity generation increased slightly to 34%, reversing the downward trend of previous years. This means that coal is still the largest source of electricity in the world, ahead of natural gas, hydropower, wind, and solar.

Meanwhile, the global trade of thermal coal, which is used for power generation, also surged in 2023. According to ship-tracking data from Kpler, total thermal coal exports were 1.004 billion metric tons for the year, up by 62.5 million tons or 6.6% from 2022. This was the first time that thermal coal exports surpassed 1 billion metric tons in a calendar year.

The main drivers of coal demand and trade were Asian countries, especially China, which imported a record 325 million tons of thermal coal in 2023, 109 million tons more than in 2022. China’s coal consumption increased as the country faced power shortages, high natural gas prices, and economic recovery from the pandemic.

Other major coal importers in Asia included India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. These countries relied on coal to meet their growing electricity needs, as well as to support their industrial sectors and infrastructure development.

On the supply side, Indonesia was the top thermal coal exporter in 2023, shipping out a record 505.4 million tons, up 54 million tons or 12% from 2022. Indonesia accounted for more than half of all thermal coal shipments in 2023, followed by Australia, which exported 198 million tons, up 12.5 million tons or 7% from the year before.

The coal boom in Asia contrasts with the efforts of many other regions, such as Europe and North America, to phase out coal and transition to cleaner sources of energy. The United Nations has warned that the world needs to cut coal use by 80% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as agreed in the Paris climate accord.

However, some experts argue that coal is not incompatible with climate action, as long as it is combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, which can trap and store the emissions from coal plants. Several projects involving CCS are underway or planned in Asia, such as the J-POWER project in Japan, the Yanchang project in China, and the NTPC project in India.

Moreover, some Asian countries have also committed to increasing their share of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, in their power mix. For example, China aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2060, India targets 450 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2030, and Vietnam plans to raise its renewable share to 30% by 2045.

These pledges suggest that coal may not have a long-term future in Asia, as the costs and benefits of different energy sources change over time. However, for now, coal remains a vital and affordable option for many Asian countries, as they seek to balance their economic and environmental goals.

Source: Moneyweb


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