Coal power rebound threatens transition to net zero warns IEA

The rapid economic recovery is driving global coal power generation to record levels undermining efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency has warned in its latest report.

 After falling in 2019 and 2020, global power generation from coal is expected to jump by 9% in 2021 to an all-time high of 10,350 terawatt-hours, according to the intergovernmental organisation’s Coal 2021 report. The rapid rate of economic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed up electricity demand much faster than low-carbon supplies can keep up with, whilst the steep rise in natural gas prices has also increased demand for coal power by making it more cost-competitive.

Overall coal demand worldwide – including uses beyond power generation, such as cement and steel production – is forecast to grow by 6% in 2021. Whilst this does not take it above the record levels reached in 2013 and 2014, at the current rate demand could reach all-time highs as soon as 2022 underlining the need for urgent 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,” commented IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “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.”