Here’s the good and bad news about coal in 2022

The International Energy Agency (IEA) today released “Coal 2022,” its annual market report on the fossil fuel’s sector. Here’s where the world currently stands, according to the report, which is considered a global benchmark for the demand, supply, and trade of coal.

The bad news about coal

Let’s get the bad news over with first.

Global coal use is set to rise by 1.2% in 2022, surpassing 8 billion tonnes in a single year for the first time and eclipsing the previous record set in 2013. This was not a surprise to the IEA, as it predicted this peak would happen either this year or next.

Coal used in electricity generation – the largest consuming sector – is expected to grow by just over 2% in 2022.

Thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, fossil fuel prices have risen substantially this year, and natural gas saw the sharpest increase. Some regions in the world switched back to coal as a more price competitive option. Europe is on track to increase its coal consumption for the second year in a row.

Alexandru Mustață, coal campaigner at Europe Beyond Coal, said:

The IEA’s analysis underlines the urgent need to massively scale up renewable power and energy efficiency so that we cut people’s bills, secure our energy supplies, and keep essential climate targets intact. Importantly, no European country has revised its plans to phase out coal completely by 2030, and Europe is still on track to be coal free by the end of the decade. Now is the time for governments to ambitiously invest in green solutions so that we don’t risk falling back on fossil fuels that make us sicker, poorer, and less secure.

In China, the world’s largest coal consumer that accounts for 53% of global coal consumption, a heat wave and drought pushed up coal power generation during the summer, despite COVID restrictions slowing down demand.

The IEA notes:

Developments in China, the world’s largest coal consumer, will have the biggest impact on global coal demand in the coming years, but India will also be significant.

Keisuke Sadamori, the IEA’s director of energy markets and security, said:

The world is close to a peak in fossil fuel use, with coal set to be the first to decline, but we are not there yet.

Coal demand is stubborn and will likely reach an all-time high this year, pushing up global emissions.

The good news about coal

Sadamori continued:

At the same time, there are many signs that today’s crisis is accelerating the deployment of renewables, energy efficiency, and heat pumps – and this will moderate coal demand in the coming years. Government policies will be key to ensuring a secure and sustainable path forward.

The “Coal 2022” report comes only just over a week after the IEA announced that solar is set to overtake coal globally by 2027. And even though coal use rose in 2022, it was kept in check by renewable deployment.

Most growth will come from renewables, so the world is close to a peak in fossil fuel use, and coal will be first in line to decline. We’re just not there … yet.

By 2025, European coal demand is expected to decline below 2020 levels. And the IEA says that that despite high prices and comfortable margins for coal producers, “there’s no sign of surging investment in export-driven coal projects. This reflects caution among investors and mining companies about the medium- and longer-term prospects for coal.”

Renewables will increasingly displace fossil fuels for electricity generation in advanced economies, and those are the economies that create the most emissions. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also caused a scramble to beef up the renewables pipeline in Europe quickly in order to reduce dependency on Russian natural gas.

Developing economies in Asia are set to increase coal use at the same time as they add more renewables to help power their economic growth.

But this week, wealthy nations pledged $15.5 billion to help Vietnam move from coal to renewables, following similar agreements with Indonesia and South Africa. Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest emitters, has now pledged to generate about one-third of its power from renewables by 2030.

Dave Jones, head of data insights at independent energy think tank Ember, said about the “Coal 2022” report:

This report shows renewables will stop any further big rises in coal power generation in the coming years. This is a key tipping point: Renewables are working for the climate. And with coal prices still at record highs, this means renewables are working for the bill-payer as well.

In other words, we’re in for short term pain but long-term gain as renewable adoption grows.

Read more: Renewables will be the largest source of electricity by early 2025

Photo: “Pennsylvania – Scranton: Lackawanna Coal Mine” by wallyg is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at michelle@9to5mac.com. Check out her personal blog.