Column: Developing Countries Need Help Breaking Coal Dependence: Kemp


Smoke rises from the smokestacks of the Belchatow Power Station, Europe’s largest coal-fired power station, in this file photo from May 7, 2009. REUTERS / Peter Andrews

LONDON, July 20 (Reuters) – Coal-fired power plants are proving difficult to shut down in developing economies because they are cheap and convenient, but keeping them in operation generates carbon dioxide at a rate much higher than level necessary to achieve net zero emissions. by 2050.

Coal, which is being phased out of the power system in many industrialized countries, is still a vital production fuel in many developing economies and could remain so for decades to come.

Countries outside the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a grouping of predominantly industrialized countries, accounted for 80% of global coal consumption in 2019, the last year before the pandemic, according to the annual energy report of BP. (“Statistical Review of World Energy”, 2021)

If emissions from coal combustion are to be reduced and global emissions reduced to net zero by mid-century, then it is essential to move towards phasing out coal-fired electricity in non-member economies. of the OECD.

But there is little evidence that developing economies are decreasing their dependence on coal as demand for electricity increases due to urbanization, industrialization, rising incomes and population growth.

OECD countries depended on coal to provide less than 13% of their total primary energy in 2020. This figure rises to over 21% in non-OECD countries outside China and to 57 % in China itself.

OECD countries obtained about 27 exajoules (EJ) of energy from coal, reaching 42 EJ in non-OECD countries outside China, and a further 82 EJ in China itself (

In relative terms, China has steadily reduced the share of coal in its energy mix since 2007, although in absolute terms Chinese consumption increased by 1.2% per year from 2010 to 2020. In non-EU countries OECD excluding China, consumption grew by 2.7% per year. .

The decline in consumption in OECD countries over the last decade (-18 EJ) has been more than offset by an increase in consumption in China (+9 EJ) and in the rest of non-OECD countries ( +10 EJ).

Non-OECD countries, including China, consumed 124 EJ of coal in 2020, compared to 105 EJ in 2010, 52 EJ in 2000 and 48 EJ in 1990.


For developing countries, coal-fired power plants remain cheap to build and easy to add to grids that have limited capacity to cope with intermittent production of renewable energy.

Coal is cheaper and safer than gas, especially when imports rely on shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is technically simpler and cheaper than nuclear, and more predictable than renewables such as nuclear power. solar and wind power.

In OECD economies, coal is rapidly being replaced by a mix of wind, solar and gas power generation, aided by advanced grid management with battery storage being developed as a back-up.

Outside the OECD, especially outside China, new forms of production are spreading more slowly and coal remains in favor.

With any innovation, high-income countries tend to be the first to adopt, while low-income countries tend to stick to older technologies longer. (“Diffusion of innovations”, Rogers, 2003)

Coal has become the default choice of the poor and is expected to remain so even as richer states turn to new technologies.

If OECD countries are to reduce global coal combustion faster, they need to provide more technical and financial assistance to their non-OECD counterparts to overcome barriers and adopt new technologies.

For OECD policymakers and climate activists, the focus has been on restricting production from coal mines and providing concessional finance for the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

This strategy sought to force a shift to alternatives by increasing the cost of charcoal production.

But non-OECD countries also need positive incentives, with transfers of money and technology, if they are to shift to more production of gas, hydropower, wind and solar power, and adapt their networks to cope with change.

Without this kind of assistance, it is unlikely that coal-fired production outside the OECD will decline significantly by 2050.

Associated columns:

– CO2 emission limits and economic development (Reuters, April 16) read more

– Global CO2 emissions are far from the net zero trajectory (Reuters, April 12) read more

– Persistent role of coal complicates efforts to fight climate change (Reuters, December 6, 2018)

Editing by Edmund Blair

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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