After briefly declining as the Paris Climate Agreement was finalized in 2015, global coal consumption is now poised to keep growing — albeit only slightly, according to a new International Energy Agency forecast.
Flashback: A three-year decline also coincided with the world's other major climate accord, the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997. Following that dip, which was caused in part by the Asian financial crisis and other factors, coal consumption rose to new heights — the planet's current status quo.
- "A similar upsurge is not expected in today's context, but neither is a sudden plunge," IEA notes in the report that looks out to 2024.
- The Kyoto Protocol sought to commit developed countries to reducing their high greenhouse gas emissions. It did not set a global target for limiting Earth's temperature rise, which the Paris Agreement does.
The big picture: In 2018, the world consumed 1.1% more coal than in 2017. The IEA forecasts that coal demand in China, by far the world's biggest coal consumer and producer, will peak in 2022, then slowly decline. Global coal consumption is expected to plateau after 2024 — but China will ultimately determine global trends.
Where it stands: China and India consumed more coal in 2018 than in 2017, but total coal consumption in the U.S. decreased by 4.3%. Consumption dropped in the EU by 5.1%.
- Renewable energy generation — hydro and wind in the EU, and wind and solar in the U.S. — largely drove reduced coal consumption.
- The shale natural gas boom and subsequent low gas prices also affected the drop in the U.S.
One level deeper: Coal is still the planet's second-largest energy source after oil and is very profitable, as average prices last year stood 60% higher than in 2016. It also accounts for over 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions worldwide.
The bottom line: Despite talk among climate change activists and some politicians that coal is past its prime, it remains king at the global level.