China’s coal production hit record levels last year

The world’s biggest coal producer and consumer mined 384.67 million tonnes of coal last month, easily topping its previous record of 370.84 million tonnes set in November last year, after the government called for miners to work at maximum capacity to help fuel the country’s economic growth.

Official government figures show that China’s coal binge also spurred the country to record-high coal output over the year as a whole. Chinese coal production climbed to an all-time high of 4.07 billion tonnes, up 4.7 per cent on the previous year.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that global consumption of coal power, which is the world’s single biggest source of climate emissions, would reach record levels last year driven by a surge in demand for energy to kick-start global economies following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coal power fell by 4 per cent in 2020 as the pandemic caused a global economic slowdown, but the IEA found that the surge in demand for electricity during last year outpaced the growth in low-carbon sources, leading many wealthy economies to rely more heavily on fossil-fuel power plants.

The IEA’s most recent report, published last week, found that the steepest-ever increase in global electricity demand last year was stoked by a 9 per cent increase in coal use compared with the year before, or more than half of the global increase in power demand, to reach an all-time peak.

China’s record coal consumption comes weeks after the conclusion of the COP26 climate talks, which ended in a fierce disagreement over a pledge to abandon coal.

A last-minute intervention by India watered down the language of the pact from “phasing out” to “phasing down.” After the talks, held last month, COP26 president Alok Sharma said India and China would “have to explain themselves to poor nations” after watering down the Glasgow climate pact, adding that their actions had left him “deeply frustrated.”

The IEA found that coal plants in the US and the EU produced 20 percent more electricity last year, from low levels in 2020, but their use remained below the levels recorded in 2019. The reliance on coal plants is expected to decline again next year as electricity demand slows and the expansion of renewable energy alternatives continues.

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