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    Coal-fired power generation set to break record in 2021: IEA

Summary

The warning comes just weeks after more than 40 countries pledged to "phase down" the use of coal at the COP26 summit.

by: Joseph Murphy

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Coal-fired power generation set to break record in 2021: IEA

Coal-fired power generation is set to rise by 9% in 2021 to an all-time high of 10,350 TWh, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on December 17, on the back of economic recovery and the steep climb in the cost of natural gas.

The warning comes just weeks after more than 40 countries pledged to "phase down" the use of coal at the COP26 summit. The commitment was originally to "phase out" coal, but was changed late in negotiations to satisfy some heavily coal-dependent countries like China and India. 

The amount of power produced by burning coal fell in both 2019 and 2020, due to decreases in several key markets. But coal-fired generation is set to increase this year by 9% in China, where more than half of coal-fired power generation takes place, the IEA forecasted, and 12% in India. It is meanwhile expected to jump by 20% in the EU and the US.

The IEA said the increase underscored the need for fast and strong policy action.

"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 director Fatih Birol said. “Without strong and immediate actions by governments to tackle coal emissions – in a way that is fair, affordable and secure for those affected – we will have little chance, if any at all, of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C."

Some countries, particularly in Asia and Europe, have been forced to turn closed coal plants back online following a surge in recent months in global gas prices. The gas industry argues this demonstrates the need for greater investment in gas supply, as a provider of baseload energy that is cleaner than coal and can complement renewables.

Decline is expected once more in 2022, as electricity demand growth slows down and more renewables are deployed, the Paris-based agency said.