The world’s three biggest coal users get ready to burn even more

The world’s three biggest consumers of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, are getting ready to boost usage so much that it’ll almost be as if the pandemic-induced drop in emissions never happened.

US power plants are going to consume 16% more coal this year than in 2020, and then another 3% in 2022, the Energy Information Administration said last week. China and India, which together account for almost two-thirds of demand, have no plans to cut back in the near term.

This means higher emissions, a setback for climate action ahead of international talks this year intended to raise the level of ambition from commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. In the US, the gains may undermine President Joe Biden’s push to reestablish America as an environmental leader and raise pressure on him to quickly implement his climate agenda.

“We’re going to see a really marked increase in emissions,” with coal consumption at US power plants returning almost to 2019 levels, said Amanda Levin, policy analyst at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. But if Biden implements green-energy policies as expected, “we could actually see changes pretty quickly.”

The US increase stems from higher natural gas prices and the recovery from the pandemic. For China and India, it’s a reflection of rising electricity demand that’s keeping coal as the dominant source of power generation even as they add vast amounts of solar and wind capacity.

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