While you sit in bed reading late at night by the hard light of an energy-efficient LED lightbulb, on the other side of the globe, factories in China are warming up. To reduce your own emissions you’ve added rooftop solar to your house at a heavy cost, purchased an electric car much more expensive than its gasoline counterpart, and even have opted to pay more on the energy you get from the grid to ensure it’s produced by renewable sources. But none of that seems to matter because the factory in China is burning energy produced by some of the dirtiest coal in the world, and your carbon saving measures are no match for their output. Sha Hua reports in The Wall Street Journal that despite efforts to cut emissions worldwide, coal power generation is growing, writing:
The main drivers of the growth are China and India, which together account for roughly two thirds of the world’s coal use. Coal power is expected to notch increases of 9% in China and 12% in India to reach all-time highs in both countries by the end of the year, as electricity demand among the world’s two largest populations continues to grow.
Through 2024, coal-fired power generation will increase 4.1% in China and 11% in India, the Paris-based watchdog forecast in an annual report on coal use.
“Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions, and this year’s historically high level of coal power generation is a worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.
In November, more than 190 countries reached a deal at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow that aims to accelerate cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions and to “phase down” coal use for the future.
The IEA said the global rebound in coal was caused by a faster-than-expected economic recovery, temperature and weather fluctuations that dampened electricity supply and boosted demand. Supply issues have rapidly pushed up gas prices, raising demand for coal as an alternative for generating electricity.
China’s coal numbers were mainly driven by soaring industrial demand in late 2020 and early 2021, as construction and heavy industry led the recovery, followed by a decline of power demand in the latter part of the year due to a coal crunch as well as contractions in the property sector.
Still, China’s coal consumption is expected to increase 4% to 4,130 million metric tons in 2021—surpassing the record set in 2013. The IEA predicts China will expand its renewable energy capacity by around 9.5% on average each year until 2024, but that is unlikely to cover additional power demand, expected to expand by nearly 4% a year until 2024, meaning coal use will likely continue to grow. In April, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that his country would begin reducing coal consumption starting in 2026.
“The rebound shows that clean energy growth globally needs to accelerate further to realize coal phase-down fast enough to meet goals set in Glasgow,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
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