Coal power plant in India.

Enlarge / A general view of a coal-fired thermal power plant belonging to Essar Power in Salaya, some 400km from Ahmedabad, on October 4, 2016. (credit: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

In the US, coal is decidedly on the decline despite the current administration’s attempts to save it. US coal plant retirements doubled in 2018, and demand for coal dropped to the lowest level in more than three decades. But the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual coal report (called Coal 2018) reminds us that the forces that have sent coal into a free fall in the US don’t exist elsewhere in the world. In fact, demand for coal is growing globally for the second year in a row after a few years of decline, driven by high demand in India and Southeast Asia.

In the US, cheap natural gas has been a primary driver in coal’s fall from grace. (This was the conclusion of the Department of Energy’s 2017 “baseload study.”) But in other parts of the world, coal remains the cheapest and most available energy source. Declines in the US, Canada, and Europe have been counter-balanced by coal growth in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Pakistan, the IEA wrote.

China, too, “accounts for nearly half of the world’s coal consumption,” although the Chinese government has taken steps to control the growth of coal in recent years.

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