The Future Of Coal

The Future Of Coal

In this week’s blog post we will be looking into the future of coal and how the demand for this resource is set to change over the next few years.


Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel and is combusted to generate electricity. It is the most popular resource for generating electricity, with The United States having more reserves than any other country in the world. However, as it has taken millions of years to develop from the remains of ancient organisms, there is a limited volume of this resource and eventually we won’t be able to rely on coal to generate power.


How is Coal Extracted?

Typically, coal is buried underground and the mineral needs to be mined to be extracted. If the coal is less than 200 feet underground, then the process of ‘surface mining’ takes place with large machines removing the topsoil and layers of rock to extract the coal.

If the coal is located deeper in the ground, then deep mines form vertical tunnels to reach the layers of coal. This is a more costly process as it requires functional necessities of tunnel excavation, vent filtration and mining shafts.


The rise and fall of Coal

In 2023 coal reached an all-time high in demand and is expected to decline by 2026. In 2023 the global demand rose by 1.4%, surpassing 8.5 billion tonnes for the first time. The IEA market report highlights that the ‘demand in emerging and developing countries meanwhile, remains very strong, increasing by 8% in India and by 5% in China in 2023 due to rising demand for electricity and weak hydropower output.’ The forecast over the next few years ‘expects global coal demand to fall by 2.3% by 2026 compared with 2023 levels, even in the absence of governments announcing and implementing stronger clean energy and climate policies.’ 

With China transitioning to global renewable energy, this will result in the coal demand to fall this year, as they account for over half the world’s demand for coal. There have been previous declines in the global demand for coal, but they were brief and only caused by events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, this decline is ‘more structural and driven by the formidable and sustained expansion of energy technologies.’ As we continue to develop cleaner energy alternatives, this reduces the demand and therefore the mining processes required to extract coal.


At the end of 2023, the COP28 took place in Dubai where the transition away from fossil fuels was discussed with the phaseout being called ‘inevitable’. With a united goal to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C by 2030 to help ‘vulnerable communities adapt to the effects of climate change and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.’ As coal carries the most responsibility when it comes to the overall global average temperature increase, it is likely to be the first resource to drop in demand.


What does this mean for Coal?

So, this brings us onto the future of coal, as we collectively work towards a focus for a cleaner environment, coal being the dirtiest, most polluting fossil fuel we cannot ignore the impacts this fuel has on reaching targets and goals for lower emissions. This year, in 2024 it is predicted that coal will reach its final peak before declining.

In more advanced countries we will see a decline in the demand for coal, as the development for renewable energy increases, it is predicted through 2026 India and Southeast Asia are the regions where the demand for coal is set to rise. As the infrastructure for renewable energy is not as advanced in these countries and they still rely on coal to provide the power/electricity they need, as it is a more cost-effective option.

The environmental impacts of surface mining coal result in habitats being destroyed as the earth is dug up, disrupting eco-systems and landscapes. They are also known to cause landslides and the use of toxic substances pollute the air, and local areas which can cause health risks to both workers and people living locally. Underground mining also carries risk to the environment with methane emissions being produced, as well as the use of toxic substances that pollute the environment.

With a decline in coal production, this will reduce the emissions into the environment. This will help meet the targets and goals set out to lower the global temperature rise. As a coal is a key contributor to the emissions that impact the temperature rise, a drop in production of coal will ensure those targets are more likely to be achieved.



The forecast for coal is set to see a decline in the worldwide coal demand, beginning in 2024. While the demand continues to grow in India and Southeast Asia, there will be a decline in the European Union and United States. China is one of the key contributors to the global coal demand, so if they choose to invest in renewable energy, this will push global coal production down. However, this presents an exciting opportunity for the development of renewable energy, such as wind and solar. While renewables are more expensive compared to coal, the economic benefits do outweigh the costs. Investments in renewable energy will support economic growth and provide additional innovation benefits. So, it is in the interest of governments around the world to get on board with the transition of phasing out coal.


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