Coal’s last refuge crumbles with China’s renewables plan

China's plan to derive 20 per cent of its primary energy from non-fossil fuels may be brought forward by five years from 2030. Coal-fired power has been dying everywhere except where it poses the greatest threat.

Draw a line down the world around the longitude of the Nile. The region to the west – encompassing Europe, Africa and the Americas – has seen coal consumption drop by a quarter over the past decade.

Companies are increasingly facing shareholder pressure to reduce emissions.  Getty

In the US, demand fell 43 per cent on an energy-equivalent basis between 2009 and 2019, according to BP Plc’s latest statistical review of energy.

In Europe, it slipped 23 per cent. The UK, cradle of the coal-fired industrial revolution, saw a 79 per cent decline that has left its few remaining thermal plants barely operating since spring.

The trouble is what’s happening east of the line. Consumption there rose by a quarter over the same period, and since the region already accounted for about 70 per cent of coal demand, that has driven the global tally up by nearly 10 per cent.

If Asia – and in particular China, which accounts for about half the world’s coal consumption – can’t break the habit, devastating climate change will be unavoidable.

On that front, good news may finally be emerging. Beijing is lifting its energy-transition ambitions in its 14th five-year plan, running from 2021 to 2025, people familiar with the matter have told Bloomberg News.

A plan to derive 20 per cent of its primary energy from non-fossil fuels may be brought forward by five years from 2030 and the share of coal in the energy mix cut to 52 per cent by the same date from 57.5 per cent this year, according to the report.

You need to decode those numbers a little to see why such apparently modest changes are a big deal.

Read the full article published in the AFR 22nd Sept 2020