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More coal being burned than ever to keep the lights on

coal fired power station

Burning coal to generate electricity is set to hit a record high despite the push to stop global warming, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned.

Soaring natural gas prices have forced a resurgence of the fuel over the past 12 months in India, China, the EU and the United States, it found.

The IEA expects use in the US and Europe to fall next year, but warned China and India will push global coal demand to its highest level in 2022 to meet demand for electricity as well as steelmaking and other industrial purposes.

“These two economies, dependent on coal and with a combined population of almost 3bn people, hold the key to future coal demand,” it said.

Coal is the single largest source of global carbon emissions and Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA chief, said this year’s high was a “worrying sign of how far off track the world is in its efforts to put emissions into decline towards net zero”.

The surge in demand for coal-fired power comes as economies rebounded from the pandemic, creating a surge in energy demand that could not be met from low carbon supplies.

The demand pushed up coal prices, which reached record highs in early October at almost $300 (£227) a tonne in Europe.

The IEA expects coal to generated 10,350 terawatt hours of electricity this year, 9pc higher than 2020. It believes global coal demand will hit a record 8bn tonnes next year, driven by China and India.

The two countries managed to water down a global pact on coal at the Cop26 climate change conference in Glasgow last month.

The agreement now commits countries to try to “phase down”, rather than “phase out”, coal consumption.

China accounts for more than half of global coal usage, with about a third of global coal consumption feeding its power stations and district heating systems.

The country is building new coal-fired power plants to improve its energy security after high gas prices and coal shortages forced some factories to suspend operations this year.

It has, however, pledged to stop funding coal projects abroad, as have South Korea and Japan.

The IEA warned there was a “major gap between ambition and action” on climate change, slowing down progress.

“The pledges to reach net zero emissions made by many countries, including China and India, should have very strong implications for coal – but these are not yet visible in our near-term forecast, reflecting the major gap between ambitions and action,” it said.

Coal has been almost phased out from UK power and accounts for just 2pc of annual electricity supply. The Government wants to phase it out completely by 2024.

Coal-fired power stations have been needed in recent months, however, as low wind and high gas prices put pressure on the electricity system.

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