Pouring more cold water over prophecies of coal's terminal decline, the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently published its Coal Report 2017, which shows chatter about the fossil fuel's imminent demise as nothing more than wishful thinking. Far from being the spent resource the green lobby would have the public see, coal is making a forceful comeback. While key markets such as China, India, and the United States show stronger than expected demand, the report also predicts a growing need for coal in the developing world – an undeniable game-changer proving coal's resilience in the future.
The main takeaway from the report is that coal consumption in the developing world is set to increase in the future. This will contribute to a global rise in coal use of around 0.5% every 12 months over the next five years. Far from falling off a cliff, the IEA states that levels of coal use will remain stable for at least the next decade. This reversal of coal's fortunes is fueled in no small part by the Trump administration's efforts to revive America's coal industry. The U.S. economy is surging, a fact that has led to higher demand and the opening of new coal mines.
Even if demand has remained robust in major markets, India is especially significant. The country is a major advocate for clean coal technology and a driving force for the "clean coal alliance." This is a logical consequence of the fact that its coal-fired energy generation will increase by nearly 4% every 12 months in the years to come. Citing the fact that coal is the cheapest fuel to drive India's economic development, chief economic adviser to the Indian government Arvind Subramanian repeatedly insisted that coal will remain the country's primary source of energy over the medium term. In doing so, he laid bare a truth routinely denied by the renewables lobby – namely, that pursuing renewables at all costs is not a universally viable choice.
Luckily for New Delhi, it has a powerful supporter on its side. Donald Trump's promise to restore the American coal industry goes hand in hand with the administration's promotion of clean coal technologies abroad, such as carbon capture. During the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November, Trump climate change adviser George David Banks proposed a clean coal alliance designed to appeal to India and Australia, but which is also slated to include other energy-starved countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.
As was to be expected, the pushback from coal-detractors was swift. Twenty countries including Britain, Canada, and New Zealand joined an alliance committed to the phasing out of coal by 2030. This came on the heels of a World Bank decision to stop financing upstream oil and gas from 2019, after having already ceased funding coal power stations in 2010.
However, while grand gestures such as these may score points with hardheaded environmentalists, they merely attest how far removed from reality these actors are. No amount of politically correct grandstanding or capitulation to environmentalist dogma is going to change the fact that using fossil fuels is the only way for poorer countries to lift themselves out of poverty. And as the IEA calculations show, not only is Washington's and New Delhi's push for clean coal technology timely, but it will ultimately extend coal's lifespan even longer. In fact, Trump's plans for a global clean coal alliance have boosted the prospects of the fuel in developing countries, where growing energy demand simply cannot be met by exceedingly expensive renewables.
Anyone who blindly believes in the fallibility of coal should look to the small African country of Malawi for an example of how reliance on renewable energy has failed the local population. For the past two years, large areas of Malawi have been hit with energy blackouts after water levels at the country's two main hydro plants fell to critically low levels during a severe ongoing drought. The country generates 98% of its power needs through water, and this lopsided dependence is now plunging the people into darkness. The power outages last up to several weeks and are making it impossible for the government to provide services such as the most basic health care. The lack of power has resulted ininfants perishing in hospital incubators and most recently killed four children after a blackout rendered their ventilator oxygen machines useless.
The Malawi government has consequently taken the only reasonable decision and turned to building a new coal plant. However, instead of being considered a long-term solution to the country's power woes, the move was harshly criticized for its environmental effects. Again, the critics are overlooking the fact that in countries such as Malawi, the tunnel-visioned pursuit of renewables is causing more damage to society and environment than alternative solutions. The development of clean coal technology such as carbon capture will not only alleviate supply problems, but do so independent of weather conditions.
It is madness that children are dying as a result of insufficient energy supplies when there's affordable and abundant coal to put an end to all this. India, Malawi, and many other countries around the globe are perfect examples illustrating the ongoing importance of coal. And with our scientific progress, clean coal technology is a viable path to secure supply while negating environmental impacts. It's time for a clean coal alliance to put common sense back into our approach to global energy policy, instead of focusing on misguided environmental policies that do nothing but cost lives.