The world’s biggest coal users — China, the United States and India — have boosted coal mining in 2017, 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 emissions.
People carry baskets of coal scavenged illegally at an open-cast mine in the village of Bokapahari in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand where a community of coal scavengers live and work. The world’s biggest coal users – China, the United States and India – have boosted coal mining in 2017, 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 emissions. (Photo: Kevin Frayer, AP)
Mining data reviewed by The Associated Press show that production through May is up by at least 121 million tons, or 6%, for the three countries compared to the same period last year. The change is most dramatic in the U.S., where coal mining rose 19% in the first five months of the year, according to U.S. 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% in 2016, the largest drop on record. China and the U.S. 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 U.S. energy markets and India’s continued push to provide electricity to more of its poor, industry experts said. President Donald Trump’s role as coal’s booster-in-chief in the U.S. 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 U.S. reversal is expected to prove temporary, analysts agree that India’s use of coal will continue to grow. They’re divided on the forecast for China over the next decade.
Industry representatives say the mining resurgence underscores coal’s continued importance in power generation, though analysts caution its long-term growth prospects remain bleak.
The U.S., 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,” said Tim Buckley, energy finance director for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Burning coal for power, manufacturing and heat is a primary source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say is 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 U.S. produce almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Coal accounts for almost 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 based in Beijing, said the recent uptick in coal production that the AP identified raises doubts about such optimism, but he added that China is still expected to meet its 2030 deadline.
China’s production rose more than 4% through May, according to government figures, compared to a drop of more than 8% for the same period a year earlier.
Hundreds of mines shut down in China last year and the government forced others to cut back hours in a bid to reduce an oversupply of coal and boost prices. The government has since relaxed that policy and production is rebounding.
Also, as China continues to recover from a 2015 economic slowdown, it’s seeing increased manufacturing and new investments in roads, bridges and other projects. That creates more demand for electricity, most of which continues to come from coal even after huge Chinese investments in wind and solar power.
Despite the announced cancellation or suspension of 100 coal plants, others remain under construction, meaning consumption of coal for power will continue to rise, Zhou said. Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Pakistan also are building new plants.
In India, where 70% of electricity comes from coal, production has long been increasing in defiance of global trends. The country has long argued it has both a right and an obligation to expand power generation as it extends electricity access to hundreds of millions of people who still have none. India also is seeking to reduce its reliance on imported coal by mining more of its own reserves.
via The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF)
November 1, 2017 at 04:04AM