IEA: Big Emissions Jump In 2021, Courtesy Of Coal Power

Coal power emissions - IEA

The economic recovery from COVID is currently anything but sustainable says the International Energy Agency, as it is being driven in part by a resurgence in coal power.

The IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021 released yesterday estimates energy-related CO2 emissions will increase this year by almost 5% to 33 billion tonnes, with coal demand set to grow 4.5%. The electricity sector will account for three-quarters of this increase and more than 80% of the projected growth in coal demand this year will originate in Asia, led by China.

The IEA is concerned it may be a little more than a short-lived rebound.

“Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “The Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden this week is a critical moment to commit to clear and immediate action ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.”

And that get-together may deliver some positive results. For example, it’s been reported U.S. President Joe Biden will commit to slashing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. The lead-up to the conference has also seen other movement in the right direction, with China and the U.S. inking an agreement on the weekend that commits the pair to cooperating on climate change with the “seriousness and urgency that it demands”.

Will Australia Be Called Out?

While there will be a great deal of attention on China and the USA this week at the conference, Australia may come under significant scrutiny and pressure over the Federal Government’s lacklustre commitments and attempts to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate.

On a related note, yesterday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced investment of a further $539.2 million in new clean hydrogen, carbon capture, use and storage (CCS/CCUS) projects. Notice the word “clean” in reference to hydrogen, not “green” or “renewable”.

When Federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor was asked by ABC Radio’s Paul Culliver if the hydrogen under these projects will be required to be produced using renewable energy, Minister Taylor said it wouldn’t and that a mix was the answer. As well as producing hydrogen from gas, Minister Taylor also talked up hydrogen from brown coal  – the filthiest of fossil fuels. Of course, CCS will be the answer to related emissions.

The Morrison Government’s fetish for coal, gas and sweeping the resulting crap under the rug looks like it will continue. But perhaps if Australia is called out at the conference, it may result in a rethink. Although Prime Minister Morrison has made it clear that Australian policy will not be dictated by other nations, this is what every leader says and chest-puffing doesn’t always work in the real world.

Some Good News – Wind And Solar On Track For Record Year

But back to the IEA’s report – while the news is bad regarding coal bouncing back, however long that might be, it points out renewables aren’t suddenly being shunned or stagnating.

The report states electricity generation from renewables, primarily from wind power and solar energy, is set to increase more than 8% in 2021. The combined output from wind and solar power is on track to reach more than 2,800 terawatt-hours and achieve their largest annual rise in history. 2,800 terawatt-hours is more than ten times Australia’s total electricity generation in 2019; which was approximately 265 terawatt-hours (TWh) from all sources including privately owned rooftop solar power systems.

“Renewables are set to provide 30% of electricity generation worldwide in 2021, their biggest share of the power mix since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and up from less than 27% in 2019,” says the IEA.

Like COVID, Australian Emissions Are Everywhere

As impressive as renewables growth has been, it’s obvious the transition needs to accelerate. Coal’s days are numbered, but it will go out kicking and screaming, creating even more damage as it is shown the door that will be difficult and incredibly expensive to address.

And while it’s all well and good to tsk, tsk China, it is the factory of the world that Australia helped power with its thermal coal – and will no doubt again when the opportunity arises. Meanwhile, India and other countries seem quite happy to take it.

Whether we’re burning it here or someone is buying it off us to burn elsewhere, the end result is pretty much the same. Australia remains a Typhoid Mary of emissions, a super-spreader of the coal virus.

More from the IEA Global Energy Review 2021 can be viewed here.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. Des Scahill says

    This is completely bizarre.

    The NSW government, having ‘listened to the people’ (after 13 years of strident protests from nearly everybody); have also just abandoned plans to begin coal mining on fertile land that is both an important ‘food bowl’ and conservation area on the Liverpool Plains nearby to Sydney, (and also paying $100 million to a Chinese corporation in contract break fees). see:

    However, NSW is also pressing ahead with plans to open further new coal mines in the Hunter Valley with a combined capacity 10 times greater than Adani’s Carmichael Mine in Queensland. see:

    Could it be that a 2050 net zero emission target has inadvertently been misread as being 3050?

    • Geoff Miell says

      Des Scahill,
      The op-ed by Richard Denniss in The Guardian piece you link to includes:

      “If we build another 23 coalmines or mine extensions across NSW then we will either tank the world’s emission reduction goals or be left with stranded assets, ruined communities and a moonscape on which farming and tourism jobs will be impossible to create.”

      Denniss is alluding to TAI’s report titled “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: New coal mines in the Hunter Valley”, published Mar 31.

      However, evidence I see (from NSW DPIE and/or IPCN project webpages) indicates the majority of coal projects listed in Table 2 of the TAI report are already approved, while some others have been either refused or withdrawn.

      Recent project approvals include:
      * Ashton South East Open Cut – Mod 1, L&EC on 27 Aug 2018
      * Maxwell Underground Coal Mine Project, IPCN on 22 Dec 2020
      * Mount Owen Continued Operations – Mod 5, DPIE on 15 Jan 2021
      * United Wambo Open Cut Coal Mine, IPCN on 29 Aug 2019
      * Bulga Optimisation Project – Mod 3, DPIE on 17 Jul 2020
      * Bulga Underground – Mod 7, DPIE on 17 Jul 2020
      * Liddell Coal Mine – Mod 7, IPCN on 12 Feb 2019
      * Stratford Extension Project – Mod 2, DPIE on 13 Jan 2020
      * Vickery Mine Extension, IPCN on 12 Aug 2020
      * Wallarah 2 Coal Mine, IPCN on 16 Jan 2018

      Refused projects include:
      * Darkbrook’s open cut operations denied yesterday by NSW Government
      * Watermark, announced yesterday by NSW Government
      * Dendrobium Extension Project, IPCN on 5 Feb 2021
      * Bylong Coal Project, IPCN on 18 Sep 2019, L&EC upheld IPCN on 18 Dec 2020, KEPCO recently lodged appeal

      Withdrawn project:
      * Airly Mine – Mod 3, although current consent still applies for 1.8 Mt/y ROM permitted to 31 Jan 2037

      Proposed projects currently in planning process:
      * Spur Hill Underground Coal Project, Prep EIS
      * Glendell Continued Operations Project, DPIE Requires More Info
      * Mangoola Coal Continued Operations, IPCN Assessment
      * Mt Pleasant Optimisation Project, Response to Submissions
      * Hume Coal Project, DPIE Assessment
      * Tahmoor South Coal Project, IPCN Assessment
      * Angus Place Mine Extension Project, Response to 2nd Round Submissions
      * Chain Valley Extension Project – Mod 4, Response to Submissions
      * Narrabri Underground Mine Stage 3 Extension Project, Response to Submissions

      The volume of potential coal production recently approved and pending in the planning process for NSW, that extends in some cases for decades into the future (the Angus Place proposal extends to the end of 2053), IMO makes a mockery of the NSW Government’s stated intent for net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, and the accumulating indicators of a shrinking coal market risks projects and nearby communities becoming ‘economically stranded’.

      • James Silcock says

        If things keep going the way they are, who ever is building these mines are not going to be able to sell the coal much longer and are going to go broke anyway.
        Meanwhile the NSW government gets what ever bribes and payments they receive to get things approved and construction companies get paid lots to build things.

        • Des Scahill says

          James Silcock

          I totally agree with your logic James… however…. there are alternative scenarios that I see as maybe likely too, such as refurbishing an existing coal powered generator that’s scheduled for closure,, and begin supplying coal to it from the new resource while also saying ‘we continue to make progress in our construction of our new ‘clean energy’ facilities, and continue to meet and beat our targets with that facility’

    • Geoff Miell says

      Des Scahill,
      UPDATE: The Independent Planning Commission NSW (IPCN) today approved the proposed Mangoola Coal Continued Operations Project.

      The Mangoola development consent includes a permit to extract a maximum 13.5 Mt/y ROM until 31 Dec 2030.

      How do we/humanity rapidly and drastically reduce GHG emissions within this decade (i.e. 2020s) when organisations like the IPCN continue to keep approving more fossil fuel projects?

  2. Des Scahill says

    Geoff Miell

    Thanks for the more detailed and up to date info. The article on the Australia Institute website you referred to contains considerable food for thought. I’d certainly recommend that other readers of this blog study it carefully and reflect on its implications. It can be found at:

    One of the first things I did was to go to the MacroTrends website, and graph the inflation adjusted price history of natural gas from Jan 1997 to the present day.

    What that graph shows is a steady decline in the price of natural gas from a seasonal peak of US$19.77 in September 2005 down to a far lower peak of US$2.21 in March 2021. So that gives some indication of the likely future trend in world natural gas prices.

    The Aust Institute article also mentions coal. They state ‘The rush to mine coal is accelerating, not slowing, as proponents scramble for approvals before a potential downturn in the market driven by climate action and cheap renewable energy.’.

    The strategy being followed by NSW with coal is exactly the same as the strategy already being followed by the country of Qatar in relation to its vast natural gas reserves, Australia has insignificant proven natural gas reserves btw, compared to many other countries as you can see from this country data at:

    Qatar is selling as much extracted natural gas from its vast reserves as it possibly can at a unit price so low that hardly anyone else else can match it.
    It seems to me that they’ve been quietly doing this for a few years already.
    Qatar can see the end of natural gas as an energy source steadily approaching and want to sell as much of it as they can until the price drops below their unit production and transport cost. That doesn’t augur at all well for Australian gas producers.

    According to a chart I obtained via Macrotrends at:

    natural gas prices have fallen from a peak of around $20 in 2005, to a current price of under $3, because consumption of that fossil fuel has been steadily dropping world-wide.

    You can see the annual seasonal spikes in demand on that graph and it would have been very clear around the end of 2014 (if not far sooner to those within the industry) that the natural gas price was in steady decline, and any new field production which added to supply would simply drive prices down faster.

    So, there’s a bit more to the sudden rush by NSW into more coal mining than is immediately obvious in my view. NSW is anticipating that at some future date the demand for coal and its price will have fallen to a level which renders any remaining untapped coal reserves virtually worthless, and they want to sell as much of it as they can before that happens. .

    • Geoff Miell says

      Des Scahill,
      Thanks for the info.
      Gas analyst Bruce Robertson from IEEFA discusses the Australian gas situation with Michael West – see my comment at:

      Flooding the markets with more fossil gas and coal that fewer and fewer users want, and there are cheaper alternatives, doesn’t make sense to me, and I think investors are getting increasingly wary.

      Australia is the outlier.
      The United States announced a new national climate target (NDC): a 50-52% emissions reduction by 2030, below 2005 levels.
      Japan announced it will cut emissions by 46% by 2030 from 2013 levels and will aim for an ambitious 50% cut. There was no commitment to stop financing new international coal projects.
      South Korea announced it will halt all financing for new overseas coal plants.

      Meanwhile ICYMI, on ABC Afternoon Briefing on Wednesday (Apr 21), from time interval 35:46 to 45:50, Patricia Karvelas interviewed Admiral Chris Barrie (ret’d) and Ian Dunlop on the security risks of climate change.

      One serious misconception came from Karvelas on hydrogen being an energy source. Hydrogen is NOT an energy source – it’s an energy carrier – like energy that’s stored in batteries and pumped-hydro systems.

Speak Your Mind


%d bloggers like this: