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Global Coal Use to Reach Record High in 2023, Energy Agency Says

Global coal use is expected to reach a record high in 2023 as demand in emerging and developing economies remains strong, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.

The demand for coal is seen rising 1.4 percent in 2023, surpassing 8.5 billion tonnes for the first time as usage in India is expected to grow 8 percent and that in China up 5 percent due to rising electricity demand and weak hydropower output, IEA said in a report released on Friday.

Coal is the largest energy-related source of the CO2 emissions responsible along with other greenhouse gases for global warming.

Half of the world’s coal use comes from China, the agency said, so the outlook for coal will be significantly affected in the coming years by the pace of clean energy deployment, weather conditions, and structural shifts in the Chinese economy.

Coal use is set to drop by about 20 percent this year in both the European Union and the United States, the report said.

The agency said it was difficult to forecast demand in Russia, currently the fourth-largest coal consumer, because of the continuing conflict in Ukraine.

But the IEA noted that overall coal use is not expected to drop until 2026, when the major expansion of renewable capacity in the next three years should help lower usage by 2.3 percent compared with 2023 levels, even with the absence of stronger clean energy policies.

Global consumption is forecast to remain well over 8 billion tonnes in 2026, the report said. To reach goals set by the Paris climate agreement – reached in 2015 by governments who agreed to phase out fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy in the second half of the century – the use of unabated coal would need to fall significantly faster, it added.

At the United Nations COP28 climate talks in Dubai this week, world leaders agreed to a deal that would, for the first time, push nations to transition away from fossil fuels to avert the worst effects of climate change.

However, the agreement did not go so far as to seek a “phase-out” of fossil fuels, for which more than 100 nations had pleaded. Rather, it called for “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade”.

“The absence of explicit ‘phase-out’ language in the draft is significant, as it is a more measurable and definitive term, sending a strong message globally about a total shift away from fossil fuels,” Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International, told Al Jazeera.

“The current terminology – ‘transitioning away’ – is somewhat ambiguous and allows for varying interpretations.”