Coal energy generation has risen by nine percent in 2021 despite global efforts to reduce it, according to the International Energy Agency.
Despite the global effort to decrease carbon emissions, coal-fired power generation in 2021 has increased by nine percent to 10,350 terawatt-hours (TWh) – a new all-time high, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Published on Friday, the IEA’s “Coal 2021” analysis and forecast report attributed the increase in demand for coal to economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and steeply rising natural gas prices.
In the US and EU, coal power generation is forecast to increase by almost 20 percent in 2021 compared with the previous year but will not reach 2019 levels.
In contrast, the estimated growth of 12 percent in India and 9 percent in China brings coal power generation to record levels for them, even as they roll out solar and wind capacity.
With re-emergence of world economies from the pandemic, IEA expected overall coal demand worldwide to rise by six percent in 2021.
"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.
The agency also forecasted that coal-fired power generation will rise by 4.1 percent in China and 11 percent in India by 2024.
Together with a faster-than-expected economic recovery, extreme weather conditions, such as floods, dampened electricity production which reduced electricity supply against high demand.
On the other hand, the efforts of transformation from coal plants to renewable sources to meet energy needs have caused a vulnerability for many countries with coal plants closing and gas stockpiles dropping below the levels of the pre-pandemic period.
Increasing price of natural gas because of supply problems from Russia and Norway has caused an overall price hike in natural gas.
In November at COP26, it was announced that 190 countries and organisations had signed up to a commitment to end all new investment in coal-fired power. The plan would see coal phased out in major economies in the 2030s, and in the rest of the world by the 2040s. Signatories include coal-reliant economies such as Poland and Vietnam.
However, major players including India and China did not sign up.
China and India: Twin drivers of coal-fired energy
China and India, two of Asia’s largest economies, have been suffering from a worsening energy crunch as global stock and bond markets wobble on worries that rising energy costs will hamper economic recovery from the pandemic.
Beijing decided to allow coal-fired power plants to pass on the high costs of generation to some end-users via market-driven electricity prices.
Together with skyrocketing energy prices, heavy rain and flooding devastated coal mines in north China's Shanxi province while at least 60 coal mines temporarily closed in the province in October due to the catastrophe.
Meanwhile, Indian state-owned coal producer Coal India is accused of not stockpiling enough to meet predicted energy needs following the reopening of the economy.
“The current crisis is not manifested by shortage of coal mining capacity, but instead it is caused due to improper foresight, planning and stocking of coal by power generators and energy regulator in the country,” Sunil Dahiya from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, told the Guardian.
Because of the difficulties in the energy sector for both Asian economies, they have concentrated more on coal for energy generation.