The world’s biggest coal users China, the United States and India have boosted coal mining in 2017, in an abrupt departure from last year’s record global decline for the heavily polluting fuel and a setback to efforts to rein in climate change emissions.
Mining data reviewed by The Associated Press show that production through May is up by at least 121 million tons, or 6 per cent, for the three countries compared to the same period last year.
The change is most dramatic in the US, where coal mining rose 19 per cent in the first five months of the year, according to US Department of Energy data.
Coal’s fortunes had appeared to hit a new low less than two weeks ago, when British energy company BP reported that tonnage mined worldwide fell 6.5 per cent in 2016, the largest drop on record. China and the US accounted for almost all the decline, while India showed a slight increase.
The reasons for this year’s turnaround include policy shifts in China, changes in US energy markets and India’s continued push to provide electricity to more of its poor, industry experts said. President Donald Trump’s role as coal’s booster-in-chief in the US has played at most a minor role, they said.
The fuel’s popularity waned over the past several years as renewable power and natural gas made gains and China moved to curb dangerous levels of urban smog from burning coal.
Whether coal’s comeback proves lasting has significant implications for long-term emission reduction targets, and for environmentalists’ hopes that China and India could emerge as leaders in battling climate change.
While the US reversal is expected to prove temporary, analysts agree that India’s use of coal will continue to grow.
They’re divided on the forecast for China over the next decade.
Industry representatives say the mining resurgence underscores coal’s continued importance in power generation, though analysts caution its long-term growth prospects remain bleak.
The US, China and India combined produce about two-thirds of the coal mined worldwide, and the latter two nations also import coal to meet demand. India’s production expanded even during coal’s global downturn.
“If you look at those three countries, everyone else is irrelevant in the scheme of things,” said Tim Buckley, energy finance director for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Burning coal for power, manufacturing and heat is a primary source of the carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say is driving climate change. Reducing such emissions was a critical piece of the 2015 Paris climate accord that Trump announced this month he wants to exit.
Almost every other nation continues to support the deal, including China and India. China, India and the US produce almost half of global greenhouse gas emissions.