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Expand chart
Adapted from BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Environment ministers from the G20 face a stark reality as they gather this week in Italy: Coal is proving quite resilient despite steep declines in some economies.

Why it matters: Burning coal emits more CO2 than any other fuel source.

  • Choose any energy scenario consistent with the Paris Agreement and it will show fast, steep cuts in coal-fired generation are needed.
  • Just Wednesday morning, BloombergNEF released an analysis of various pathways to net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • They all show "unabated" coal — that is, without carbon-trapping tech that has scarcely been deployed — falling 67%-72% by 2030.

Driving the news: New reports show how coal remains a huge share of the global power mix and the scope of new plants, especially in China.

  • That chart above, via a report from BloombergNEF and Bloomberg Philanthropies, shows projects getting built or planned in the G20.
  • The International Energy Agency's latest power sector analysis projects a big rebound from the pandemic, with coal-fired generation potentially hitting an all-time high in 2022.

By the numbers: IEA finds that in China, home to over half the world's coal-fired capacity, net capacity grew by 19 gigawatts last year, with another 90 GW under construction.

  • Coal had a nearly 80% share of India's power mix early this year, per IEA.
  • Many big developed countries are moving away from coal, but it's a slower goodbye than envisioned under various net-zero analyses.
  • In the U.S., coal has been declining for well over a decade, but the Energy Information Administration projects it will be 24% of the power mix this year.
  • In the EU, IEA finds coal's share returned to pre-pandemic levels early this year, though the report says its revival is "likely to be short-lived" as countries implement phase-out plans.

What we're watching: How coal may be addressed at the G20 environment ministers' meetings in Naples tomorrow and Friday.

  • "[They] should agree aggressive emissions cuts by 2030, especially those countries yet to upgrade their national plans. There is no room for coal," Rachel Kyte, dean of The Fletcher School at Tufts University, tells Axios via email.
  • "Those still using coal need to outline specific plans for exit at home and abroad," adds Kyte, a former World Bank climate official.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

COVID recovery spending gets a shade greener, but not enough

Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

National governments are boosting clean energy funding in economic recovery packages, but not nearly enough to significantly alter the global emissions path, the International Energy Agency warns.

Driving the news: IEA's out with its latest "Sustainable Recovery Tracker," which tallies efforts to stitch climate-friendly spending into big COVID-19 rescue and recovery packages.

India rejects net zero carbon emissions target ahead of COP26

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend COP26 in Glasgow after taking part in the Group of 20 summit in Rome this weekend. Photo: Mohd. Muqeed/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

India's top environmental official on Wednesday dismissed calls to set forth a net zero carbon emissions target, arguing such goals were not the solution to the climate crisis, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: India is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after the U.S. and China.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

China declines to speed emissions cuts in new UN pledge

A view of the skyscrapers in the haze in Shanghai, China, in December 2020. Photo: Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Chinese leaders are sticking with a prior target to bring the country's carbon emissions to a peak before 2030, according to documents filed with the United Nations Thursday under the Paris climate agreement.

Why it matters: The new documents come just days ahead of the UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow. China is by far the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, and its emissions path is key to whether the temperature-limiting goals of the Paris agreement can remain within reach.