Fri, Jun 30, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Coal on the rise in China, US, India after major drop last year

Experts mostly agree that the US boom is an anomaly, while India’s use will continue to grow and China’s coal future is uncertain

By Matthew Brown and Katy Daigle  /  AP, BEIJING

Illustration: Mountain People

The world’s biggest coal users — China, the US and India — have boosted coal mining this year in an abrupt departure from last year’s record global decline for the heavily polluting fuel and a setback to efforts to rein in climate change.

Mining data show that production through last month was up by at least 121 million tonnes, or 6 percent, for the three nations compared with the same period last year.

The change is most dramatic in the US, where coal mining rose 19 percent in the first five months of the year, according to US Department of Energy data.

Coal’s fortunes had appeared to hit a new low less than two weeks ago, when British energy company BP reported that tonnage mined worldwide fell 6.5 percent last year, the largest drop on record. China and the US accounted for almost all the decline, while India showed a slight increase.

The reasons for this year’s turnaround include policy shifts in China, changes in US energy markets and India’s continued push to provide electricity to more of its poor, industry experts said.

US President Donald Trump’s role as coal’s booster-in-chief in the US has played at most a minor role, they said.

The fuel’s popularity waned over the past several years as renewable power and natural gas made gains, and China moved to curb dangerous levels of urban smog from burning coal.

Whether coal’s comeback proves lasting has significant implications for long-term emission reduction targets and for environmentalists’ hopes that China and India could emerge as leaders in battling climate change.

While the US reversal is expected to prove temporary, analysts agree that India’s use of coal is to continue to grow. They are divided on the forecast for China over the next decade.

Industry representatives say the mining resurgence underscores coal’s continued importance in power generation, although analysts caution its long-term growth prospects remain bleak.

The US, China and India combined produce about two-thirds of the coal mined worldwide, and the latter two nations also import coal to meet demand. India’s production expanded even during coal’s global downturn.

“If you look at those three countries, everyone else is irrelevant in the scheme of things,” Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis energy finance director Tim Buckley said.

Burning coal for power, manufacturing and heat is a primary source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say are driving climate change. Reducing such emissions was a critical piece of the 2015 Paris climate accord that Trump announced this month he wants to exit.

Almost every other nation continues to support the deal, including China and India. China, India and the US produce nearly half of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Coal accounts for nearly half of greenhouse emissions from burning fossil fuels, according to the Global Carbon Project. China is by far the world’s largest coal user, consuming half the global supply.

China has committed to capping its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and some have suggested it might accomplish that up to a decade earlier.

Xizhou Zhou, a senior energy analyst with IHS Markit in Beijing, said the uptick in coal production raises doubts about such optimism, but added that China is still expected to meet its 2030 deadline.

“Coal consumption will continue to increase, mainly driven by Asian countries,” Zhou said. “We’re seeing a recovery starting this year and an increase until the mid-2020s before you see coal plateau globally.”

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