Thursday January 20th, 2022 9:13PM

EXPLAINER: Why quitting coal is so hard

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) — In the run-up to the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, host Britain announced one of its goals of the conference was to consign coal to history.

That has turned out to be easier said that done. Even saying it — in writing — has turned out to be quite a challenge.

Government negotiators in Glasgow have been writing and rewriting a paragraph that spells out that the world needs to phase out coal, along with fossil fuel subsidies, but doesn't set an end date.

Here’s a look at the role coal plays in climate change and the energy system, and why it’s been so hard to move away from:


Of the three fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — coal is the biggest climate villain. It's responsible for about 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions. It's also a fuel that is relatively easy to replace: Renewable alternatives to coal-fired power have been available for decades. The burning of coal also has other environmental impacts, including air pollution contributing to smog, acid rain and respiratory illnesses.


China, the world's most populous country and a manufacturing giant, is by far the world’s biggest coal consumer, followed by India and the United States. In 2019 China produced 4,876 TWh of electricity from coal, almost as much as the rest of the world combined, according to the International Energy Agency. But adjusted for population size the situation is different: Australia has the highest per capita coal emissions among the Group of 20 biggest economies, followed by South Korea, South Africa, the United States and China, according to an analysis by Ember, a climate and energy think tank.


The short answer is coal is cheap and plentiful. But even as renewables become more competitive on price, coal isn’t that easy to get rid of. Electricity needs are soaring as the world’s population and prosperity increase, and renewables simply aren’t enough to satisfy that growth in demand. The IEA projects that India will need to add a power system the size of the European Union's to meet expected growth in electricity demand in the next 20 years. Coal's role in the power sector has remained relatively stable in the past five decades. IEA statistics show that in 1973 coal's share of global electricity generation was 38%; in 2019 it was 37%.


Coal's future looks bleak in the long term regardless of what language governments agree on in Glasgow. It’s not just driven by climate concerns: In the U.S., natural gas has been replacing coal for years for economic reasons, though coal has rebounded this year due to a surge in natural gas prices. Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, many countries have set net zero emissions targets, which often require phaseouts of unabated coal, meaning coal-fired plants that aren't fitted with expensive technology that captures emissions. Austria, Belgium and Sweden have already closed their last coal plants. Britain plans to end coal power by 2024. Announcements made in the run-up to and during the Glasgow conference mean some 370 more coal plants around the world were given a close-by date, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The U.S. has not made such a pledge yet.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP World News, AP Business, AP Business - Economy, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2022
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
EXPLAINER: Why quitting coal is so hard
In the run-up to the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, host Britain announced one of its goals of the conference was to consign coal to history
11:27AM ( 13 minutes ago )
Verstappen investigated in Brazil, Alonso tops free practice
Red Bull driver and Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen is being investigated at the Brazilian Grand Prix for an alleged breach of the sporting code
11:15AM ( 24 minutes ago )
Prize-winning 1619 Project now coming out in book form
It began as a prize-winning magazine issue and became a cultural flashpoint, and now “The 1619 Project” is coming out as a book
11:11AM ( 29 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
The Latest: Gabon minister says developing nations unheard
The chair of a group of African negotiators at the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow says he thinks their concerns haven’t been heard by the developed world
10:32AM ( 1 hour ago )
Sinema's shift: 'Prada socialist' to corporate donor magnet
Twenty years ago, when Kyrsten Sinema was a Green Party activist running for the Phoenix City Council, she likened the practice of raising campaign cash to “bribery.”
10:01AM ( 1 hour ago )
Kevin Magnussen pulled from Petit Le Mans with illness
Chip Ganassi Racing suffered a setback even before the start of the Petit Le Mans when star driver Kevin Magnussen was pulled from the lineup because of illness
9:48AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
Alzheimer's drug cited as Medicare premium jumps by $21.60
Medicare’s “Part B” outpatient premium will jump by $21.60 a month in 2022, one of the largest increases ever
9:43PM ( 13 hours ago )
Out of time: Climate talks go past deadline over coal, cash
Going into overtime, negotiators at U.N. climate talks in Glasgow are still trying to find common ground on phasing out coal, when nations need to update their emission-cutting pledges and, especially, on money
5:23PM ( 18 hours ago )
Stocks close higher, but indexes still end week in the red
Stocks closed higher on Wall Street on Friday, but still marked their first weekly loss in six weeks
4:40PM ( 19 hours ago )
AP Business - Economy
Nursing homes can now lift most COVID restrictions on visits
The government is telling nursing homes to open their doors wide to visitors, easing many remaining pandemic restrictions while urging residents, families and facility staff to keep their guard up against outbreaks
6:57PM ( 16 hours ago )
Environmentalists can continue with suit to protect whales
A federal court is allowing a team of environmental groups to continue with a lawsuit against the U.S. government
5:20PM ( 18 hours ago )
Johnson & Johnson to split into 2, aim for faster growth
Johnson & Johnson is splitting into two companies, separating the division that sells Band-Aids and Listerine from its medical device and prescription drug business
2:49PM ( 20 hours ago )
AP Business - Industries
Japan's Toshiba spins off energy, computer device units
Embattled Japanese technology conglomerate Toshiba is restructuring to improve its competitiveness, spinning off its energy infrastructure and computer devices businesses
5:03AM ( 1 day ago )
Can world's climate target and India's development coexist?
No country will see energy needs grow faster in coming decades than India, and even under the most optimistic projections part of that demand will have to be met with dirty coal power — a key source of heat-trapping carbon emissions
3:10AM ( 1 day ago )
Foundations commit billions to fight climate change
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was postponed a year because of COVID-19, has promoted a series of announcements from foundations and individuals attempting to pour money into efforts to fight climate change, an area many think philanthropy has neglected
2:37PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Prize-winning 1619 Project now coming out in book form
It began as a prize-winning magazine issue and became a cultural flashpoint, and now “The 1619 Project” is coming out as a book
11:11AM ( 29 minutes ago )
EXPLAINER: Did Rittenhouse lawyers do enough to prevail?
When Kyle Rittenhouse took the stand to testify about his actions the night he shot three men on the streets of Kenosha — sobbing and seemingly unable to continue as he approached the critical moment where he shot the first man — it was one of the most compelling moments in his two-week murder trial
11:10AM ( 30 minutes ago )
The Latest: India tries to block coal phaseout from UN deal
India’s environment minister has sought to block efforts to include references to phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies in a deal proposed at this year’s U.N. climate summit
10:56AM ( 43 minutes ago )
Parkland activists heal over years while pushing gun reform
The recent guilty plea by the shooter in the 2018 Parkland school slayings drew some renewed attention to the anti-gun March for Our Lives student movement
10:46AM ( 54 minutes ago )
SpaceX launches 53 Starlink satellites into orbit
SpaceX launched 53 Starlink satellites into orbit from Florida on Saturday
10:44AM ( 56 minutes ago )