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Europe shows downward trend in coal production and usage

Despite a continued decline trend in hard and brown coal production and consumption since 1990, Europe has accelerated its decrease in mining and usage in 2019 owing to various efforts put in place to decarbonise the bloc’s economies, according to the European Commission.

In 2020, the consumption of hard coal declined by 35% compared to 2018 whilst the use of brown coal was reduced by 33%. The production of hard coal declined by 80% compared to 1990 levels with the bloc producing 56 million tonnes.

The decrease can be attributed to a decline in energy demand in 2020 and industry production due to COVID-19, according to the Commission. Only two European countries (Poland {96%} and Czechia) produced hard coal in 2020 compared to 13 countries in 1990.

Only 144 million tonnes of hard coal was consumed in Europe in 2020, a 63% decline from 1990 levels, as more and more countries shift to low-carbon energy resources such as solar, wind, natural gas and hydrogen. The decrease in the production of oven coke, used in various industries such as for the production of iron and steel, also resulted in less hard coal being consumed across the bloc, according to the Commission.

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Brown coal

Only 246 million tonnes of brown coal, a 64% decline from 1990 levels, was produced in the bloc in 2020. Some six EU countries, Germany (44%), Poland (19%), Czechia (12%), Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, dominated by consuming brown coal in 2020. Up to 93% of the brown coal consumed in 2020 was through electricity production. However, the use of brown coal decreased from 2019.

The enactment of policies including the Green Deal, the Fit for 55 package, and the increasing availability of funding for green projects, an increase in the retirement of coal power generation plants in addition to sustainability plans adopted by corporates and utilities are driving the decrease in coal production and consumption.

For instance, CEZ Group has closed a unit at the Mělník coal-fired power plant, the Czech Republic’s largest source of district heating, as the utility seeks to close the three coal-fired units at the plant by 2030.

However, other regions including Asia, Latin America and Africa continue to increase dependence on coal for power generation.

In early August, the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission announced that operations will resume in dozens of coal mines due to surging demand in the past year as China’s economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the Chilean energy ministry announced its plan to use coal to meet the growing energy demand after a drought negatively affected the country’s hydropower generation, Chile’s number one source for electricity.

However, as more and more governments enact climate mitigation strategies and more funding is made available for renewable energy projects on a global scale, the production, and consumption of coal are expected to decline in the decades to come.