By 2030, under Canada’s plans, there will be no more coal-fired power generation in the country, with the gap to be filled by renewable or other “sustainable” forms of power. Kathleen McKenna, environment minister, said: “Taking traditional coal power out of our energy mix and replacing it with cleaner technologies will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, improve health and benefit generations to come.”
According to the IEA, demand for coal stalled there in 2014, and according to some estimates fell by 3% last year. The faltering of China’s phenomenal growth rates has been one reason, but government policy has also played a major role, spurring investment in renewables and cutting down on the dirtiest coal to try to tackle some of the worst pollution.
This risks opening up a split whereby developed countries close down their most polluting fossil fuel assets, while developing countries continue to open them up. In the IEA’s projections, global coal demand is seen as likely to rebound to 2014 levels by as soon as the end of this decade, driven by growth in India and south-east Asia. This could be enough to more than offset declining demand in Europe, north America and China.
Despite the problems coal causes, in climate change and air pollution, the World Coal Association sees a strong future for the fuel, in both the developing and developed world. Its chief executive, Benjamin Sporton,said: “Developed countries will continue to use coal for decades to come, and developing countries will increase [their use]. There are new high-efficiency technologies that reduce emissions, and developments in carbon capture and storage. Coal is a reliable fuel.”
Such measures would be expensive, and paid for by consumers and taxpayers. Changing economics, led by fracking, may yet prevent the US from returning to the old days of King Coal.