The International Energy Agency has released its 2022 Coal analysis and forecast. It is sobering. By the time 2022 is over, world-wide coal consumption will have exceeded 8 billons tonnes for the first time. In other words, 2022 was a record year for coal. It is true that demand was largely flat compared to 2021 and there were some extraordinary reasons – such as a war in Ukraine – for even the moderate increase.
However, we don’t need flat coal demand; we need to start seeing significant decreases. And the IEA report isn’t predicting those any time soon. Instead, the IEA is predicting a plateau at around 8 billion tonnes lasting through 2025.
Once one gets over the depressing nature of this forecast, a few issues emerge from the IEA forecast. First, while the war in Ukraine has affected European coal consumption, this remains largely about China, India, and other developing countries. Since developing countries are not really interested in being told to curtail development to minimize GHG emissions, the developed world has to focus on what they can do to help moderate GHG emissions from China and India as much as on its own emissions.
Relatedly, this issue reminds me that, in all of our recent debate about how to achieve the GHG emissions reductions that are necessary, I’ve seen little or no discussion about the cost-effectiveness of different ways to reduce GHG emissions. And I get that, because we need to reduce all sources. Still, cost-effectiveness considerations should tell us not to focus solely on reducing our own emissions. And we need to remember that providing technology to developing countries to reduce carbon emissions can provide significant economic benefit to the United States and Europe.
In any case, we are a long way from Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 16 Tons. And our carbon debt is growing bigger every day.