G20 coal emissions continue to rise despite climate pledges

Person holding out a piece of coal in front of a coal-fired power station.
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New research has shown that G20 per capita coal emissions are continuing to rise. These coal-based emissions are increasing despite climate pledges and transition efforts from some members of the group of major economies.

The group’s leaders will meet in New Delhi this weekend for its main annual summit. Collectively, the countries in the forum account for 80% of global power sector emissions.

During talks in July, the G20 failed to agree that global emissions should peak by 2025. Moreover, it fell short of jointly committing to massively ramp up renewable energy use.

No climate role models

According to the research published on 5 September by Ember, between 2015 and 2022, per capita G20 coal emissions rose by 9%. Ember is an energy thinktank that pushes for renewable power.

Twelve G20 members, including the UK, Germany and the United States, were able to significantly decrease per capita coal emissions.

However, as the Canary has previously highlighted, countries like the UK are no climate role models. Regarding Britain’s shift away from coal, the climate crisis wasn’t the major instigator. Instead, the 1990s dash for gas in the North Sea meant that:

companies operating the newly privatised energy sector drove the change to gas, to save on the capital costs of energy generation.

Read on...

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In other words, the UK’s move from coal did not originate from environmentally benevolent goals.

Moreover, while it has lowered coal-based emissions, the UK government has continued to double down on fossil fuel production. For instance, in December, our fossil-fuel-friendly government granted planning permission for a new coal mine in Cumbria. Plus, it has yet to rule out the environmentally-ruinous Rosebank project. Over its lifetime, oil field alone would produce the emissions equivalent of burning 56 coal-fired power plants for an entire year.

Other countries ditching coal haven’t been much better. Despite its commitment to phase out coal, Germany has instead ramped up its production and restored coal plants. The Environmental Justice Foundation found that in 2022:

8.4% more coal-generated energy was fed into the German grid than in 2021.

Previous Ember research also demonstrated that Germany and Poland generate two-thirds of the EU’s coal emissions. What’s more, G7 nations – including some that Ember identified as having reduced coal-based emissions – have alternatively flogged gas expansion in the Global South.

Coal emission culprits

Meanwhile, other countries – including G20 host India, along with Indonesia and China – all increased their coal emissions.

Last year, rich nations pledged $20bn to Indonesia to help it wean itself off coal. However, Ember found that its per capita emissions from the fuel jumped 56% from 2015. In early August, Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta experienced severe spikes in toxic air pollution.

Notably, air pollution levels in the megalopolis of about 30 million people have risen to some of the highest in the world in recent months. According to Swiss air monitor IQAir, the smog levels have topped global rankings multiple times since the beginning of August.

As a result, Indonesia imposed administrative sanctions on a number of coal-fired power stations and factories in the city. On top of this, it nearly halved output at one of its major coal-fired power plants near the capital, on the island of Java.

Indonesia has pledged to stop building new coal-fired power plants from 2023, and to be carbon neutral by 2050. However, despite an outcry from environmental activists, the government are permitting the aforementioned major coal plant to expand.

Worst polluters

The Ember report also said that even some countries that achieved reductions in their coal emissions continue to emit far above the global average on a per capita basis.

Ember’s global insights lead, Dave Jones, said that:

China and India are often blamed as the world’s big coal power polluters. But when you take population into account, South Korea and Australia were the worst polluters still in 2022.

For instance, Australia is currently the world’s second-largest exporter of thermal coal, after Indonesia. In addition, the country is the largest exporter of metallurgical coal, which is used in steel making.

Moreover, the Ember analysis comes as news breaks that Australia is ‘rethinking’ its coal-ditching pledge. The New South Wales government has hinted that it will break its promise to phase out the nation’s largest coal-fired power station. It had previously earmarked the station for closure in August 2025 to help meet emissions targets.

Call to phase out coal

The emissions rises come despite persistent warnings that deep cuts to fossil fuel emissions are necessary to keep the planet liveable. In March, the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres stressed the particular role of G20 nations in combatting climate breakdown.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that coal-fired power plants that do not deploy carbon capture technology must decline in use by 70-90% within eight years. However, Ember noted that many G20 members have yet to unveil comprehensive coal drawdown strategies.

Moreover, as the Canary’s Tracy Keeling has reported, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is itself controversial. In particular, she noted that rich nations have bandied about the concept of CCS ‘abatement’ to throw coal a lifeline. Keeling highlighted this in reference to rich countries’ pledge to partially halt financing for overseas fossil fuels. She argued that:

This is a controversial and uncertain technology that would ultimately pass the carbon problem on to future generations… CCS capacity could potentially allow for continued funding of overseas power plants.

Crucially, Ember’s report warned that:

Growing wind and solar are helping to reduce coal power emissions per capita in many countries, but it’s not enough yet to keep pace with rising electricity demand in most emerging countries

As a result, the group called on G20 members to agree to tripling renewables by 2030, and to offer clear policies on a coal power phaseout.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse.

Feature image via Adrem68/Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 1910 by 1000, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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