The IEA ‘s results of the Coal 2021 report are concerning especially when it comes to climate change since they show that coal consumption is not heading in the right direction. Coal has the highest CO2 emissions per unit of energy compared to the other fossil fuels oil and gas. However, what the report fails to clearly show is that between 1985 and 2020 the world managed to reduce coal’s contribution to the global electricity mix by a meagre ~4%.
Today, coal consumption is largely driven by China and India as they have access to substantial, and cheap, reserves of coal. Also, in the US, coal contributes to a notable proportion of the country’s electricity mix while in Poland, coal has the lion share of the country’s electricity mix – even more than in India and China.
Renewables still can’t fully compete with fossil fuels given the intermittency and storage problem. But a lot can be achieved if the world replaces coal with natural gas – the low hanging fruit. The shale revolution in the US made gas more competitive with coal thereby encouraging coal-to-gas switching and significantly contributing to lowering the country’s missions since 2007.