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China and India to drive record world coal demand next year

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Advances in solar power and other clean energy technologies have failed to keep up with demand for electricity as economies rebound from the Covid crisis and China and India’s fossil fuel appetite will ensure the world stays well short of what is needed for a net zero 2050 for at least the next three years.

Although the march of solar and wind power in what the International Energy Agency (IEA) terms “advanced economies” in its latest report has been noted, the Paris-based body has issued typically depressing findings in its latest survey of the global coal market – unless you are an investor in the fossil fuel.

The Coal 2021 report, which includes data from 2019 and 2020; an estimate for this year; and forecasts out to 2024, stated the IEA overestimated the extent to which demand for coal slumped as Covid-19 savaged the global economy, and also destroyed the idea global coal demand may have peaked in 2018.

Coal demand is set to hit record highs this year, according to the IEA.Imagery ©2021 CNES / Airbus, Maxar Technologies, Map data ©2021 AfriGIS (Pty) Ltd/Google Maps

While noting the rebound in coal demand in the U.S. and Europe as economies bounced back from the pandemic will not be sustained – and pointing out the shift to solar and other low-carbon power in countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Bangladesh – the IEA said the voracious appetite for the fuel in China and India will drive record demand highs next year.

The world’s two most populous nations between them make up two-thirds of global coal demand, said the IEA, and provisions for coal in China’s latest five-year plan, plus the Indian “government’s goal of raising domestic coal production,” will ensure the world stays well short of the progress required to reach a net zero economy by mid century. That shortfall is likely to persist until at least 2024, wrote the report’s authors, with China set to experience 1% annual rises in coal demand, and India set for 4% annual market growth in each of the next three years.

With both nations expected to have experienced record coal demand this year, in part because renewable energy projects have been unable to keep up with electricity demand during the post-Covid economic recovery, the global market for the fossil fuel is expected to hit a record 8.03 billion tons next year, before maintaining that level for the next two years, according to the IEA study.

The Chinese and Indian governments are not the only villains of the piece, though, according to the report, with “Russia developing more coal fields … and expanding export facilities” as part of its 2020 energy strategy; Indonesia and Mongolia also expanding export capacity; and with Australia remaining the world’s biggest exporter of the metallurgical coal used to fire processes such as steelmaking.

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