Global electricity production from coal is on track to fall by around 3% in 2019, the largest drop on record, according to new data.

UK-based energy analysts, Carbon Brief, who compiled the data, says the record drop in coal power raises the prospect of slowing global CO2 emissions growth in 2019, and could play a central role in meeting global climate goals.

The projected decline in coal generated emissions is largely due to record falls in developed countries. Surprisingly, the largest reduction is taking place in the US, following the closure of large coal-fired power plants that have struggled to compete with shale gas fracking, among other factors.

The European Union has also seen an “unprecedented” ​19% year-on-year decline​ in coal-fired power generation in the first half of 2019, with coal use in Germany falling by 22% year-on-year and Ireland’s falling by 9% in the first half of 2019.

The fall across Europe is largely attributed to the EU’s carbon cap-and-trade system, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), where prices on the EU carbon market have risen from around €5 in 2017 to around €25 per tonne of CO2 emitted in 2019, making coal fired plants less competitive with other energy sources.

“It’s basically down to the EU ETS,” said Simon Evans, Deputy Editor at Carbon Brief. “That’s the main driver for people not to run their coal plants at full power,” he told EURACTIV.

The story in Asia also shows improvements. India’s coal power output is on track to fall for the first time in at least three decades, whilst South Korea’s coal-fired power generation to July was down 9.8%, putting the country on track to a record reduction this year.

China’s coal-fired output has flatlined as a result of a slowdown in construction and heavy industry output, and a rapid increase in hydropower, wind, nuclear and solar output, according to Carbon Brief, although recent studies show China is still building new coal plants, which could still threaten global efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions.

“The reasons for the historic projected drop in coal-fired generation in 2019 vary from country to country, but include increased electricity generation from renewables, nuclear and gas, as well as slowing or negative power demand growth.,” the Carbon Brief report states.

“For 2019, a 3% reduction in power sector coal use could imply zero growth in global CO2 output, if emissions changes in other sectors mirror those during 2018,” the report concludes.

Last reviewed 26 November 2019