Coal is both the most polluting fossil fuel and the largest source of global electricity generation. Coal accounted for 36% of power generation in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Because coal power is so polluting, phasing out unabated burning of the fuel is an integral part of transitioning to net zero.
Energy Monitor looked at the countries that are most reliant on coal in their energy mix and energy transition plans. Of the 30 most coal-reliant countries globally, just under half have committed to a coal phase-out. Six countries have yet to make any commitments to a phase-out or net zero.
The most ambitious are North Macedonia and Mauritius, which plan to phase out coal by 2027 and 2030, respectively. Montenegro, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Bulgaria all plan to phase out coal by 2040. The other countries have later phase-out dates.
Until a few years ago, only a handful of countries had committed to phasing out coal. Austria, Belgium, Finland, France and the UK were alone in their commitment to quitting the fossil fuel, until Canada and the UK initiated the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA) in 2017. Almost 50 countries have now joined the PPCA. Other countries have committed to coal phase-outs as part of nationally determined contributions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or as part of other international and national agreements. Kosovo recently published a new climate plan, where it states the aim to phase out coal by 2050. Serbia has made no commitments yet but is expected to announce a plan to cut coal by 2050 soon.
At COP26 in Glasgow, 46 countries signed the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, either agreeing to cease the issuing of new coal-fired power plant permits or to phase out coal in the 2030s for major economies or in the 2040s (or as soon as possible thereafter) for other nations.
Some countries had caveats about the COP26 statement, excluding some of the clauses. Indonesia excluded clause 3, on the ceasing of new permits. The country also said it would “consider accelerating coal phase out into the 2040s” on the condition of additional financial and technical assistance. Botswana, Hungary and the Philippines also excluded clause 3, with the latter reiterating a call for climate justice as the country is not a major greenhouse gas emitter but faces worsening consequences of climate change. Morocco agreed to not permit any new coal but did not commit to a phase-out.
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That these countries are the most reliant on coal does not necessarily mean they also use the most coal. When it comes to total coal consumption, China, India, the US, Russia and Japan were among the biggest consumers in 2021, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Notable among the most coal-reliant countries are Australia, China and Japan – the last two are also among the biggest global coal consumers – which have net-zero targets but have not committed to phase out coal by a specific date.
At COP26, Australia refused to join other countries committing to end the use of coal, with the energy minister saying it would not be “wiping out industries”. After the country’s 'climate election' in May 2022, the new Labor government is looking at more ambitious climate targets, but a coal phase-out has not been announced yet.
More recently, Japan, the US and the EU blocked a G7 proposal last month for a 2030 deadline to phase out domestic coal-fired electricity generation. At the same time, China is rapidly expanding the permitting of new coal power plants, with more than 50GW of coal power capacity starting and restarting construction in 2022.
Phasing out coal can prove especially difficult for some countries, depending on factors such as energy dependence, development gap, economic dependence and lock-in risks, according to the IEA. China, Indonesia and South Africa, for instance, have big coal mining regions where the sector accounts for a significant share of employment. Without addressing these obstacles and offering support for the countries facing them, it will be tough to meet global climate goals.
A note on methodology: the coal-dependency data is based on the share of coal in total energy consumption in 2021. Whether a country has made commitments to a phase-out of coal is based on analysis of various sources including, but not limited to, the Powering Past Coal Alliance, Beyond Fossil Fuels, UNDP Climate Promises, the IEA and Climate Action Tracker.