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END OF AN ERA

Coal could be on course for its worst year ever

A labourer searches for usable coal.
Reuters
Getting past peak coal?
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

One day, 2015 could be remembered as the beginning of the end of coal.

Global consumption has fallen by the greatest degree on record, according to data compiled by environmental NGO Greenpeace. The drop translated to between 90 million and 180 million tonnes (between 100 and 200 million tons) of coal in the first three quarters of 2015, which the NGO noted was roughly equal to the total consumption of Japan over the same period.

The biggest drivers of the fall: changes to the energy production system in China, including massive construction of renewable energy infrastructure, and an overall slowdown in national productivity.

In 2015, Turkey actually cut its coal use most, followed by the US.

But in absolute terms, China’s 4% reduction is huge. The country burns more coal than any other nation:

This year, China overtook the rest of the world in building renewable power infrastructure, the International Energy Agency noted in June. And by 2050, China could be producing 85% of its electricity (pdf) sustainably, according to an April 2015 report by China’s National Development and Reform Commission, cited by Greenpeace.

Of course, China has also built renewable energy infrastructure and then not used it. It has also recently admitted (paywall) to burning more coal over the last years than it previously said it had—just one example of unreliable statistics reported by the country.

But with coal markets indisputably beleaguered (paywall) for a while now, this year’s reported drop may well be a sign that coal is finally on its way out.

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