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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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The Countries Increasing Their Coal Dependency Despite Climate Pledges

  • The Philippines and Indonesia are heavily reliant on coal for power generation.
  • Coal use in these countries is increasing despite climate pledges and renewable energy goals.
  • Increased coal use in Asia hinders regional efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

As many countries are battling to curb their coal production, some Asian powers continue to increase their dependency on the “dirtiest fossil fuel”, massively hindering a regional green transition. For years there have been big worries about China remaining heavily dependent on coal, but this trend has spread across Southeast Asia. Despite the development of climate pledges and energy strategies in favor of a green transition, with support from international donors, it looks like the region’s heavy reliance on coal could continue for several more years. 

A recent report from the energy consultancy Ember showed that The Philippines’ reliance on coal power increased by around 62 percent in 2023, overtaking China, Indonesia, and Poland. Coal contributed 61.9 percent of the country’s electricity in 2023, compared to 59.1 percent the previous year. Coal generation also increased by 9.7 percent, which was higher than the rise in electricity demand. This marked the 15th consecutive year of increased coal production, despite its goal to reduce reliance on coal to less than half of its total electricity production by the end of the decade. 

The Philippines has not been successful in significantly increasing its renewable energy capacity to date, as it falls behind several other countries in the region. Between 2015 and 2023, its wind and solar generation increased at a far slower pace than neighboring countries, from 1 terawatt hour to 3.7 TWH. To decrease its reliance on coal-generated power, The Philippines must diversify its energy mix to ensure that it can keep up with the rising energy demand. 

Several countries in Southeast Asia continue to depend heavily on coal for their power, despite increased pressure from the international community to shift away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives. Further, coal is seen as the dirtiest form of fossil fuel, with many favoring oil and gas above coal for mid-term decarbonization. The Southeast Asian region saw a 2 percent growth in coal reliance in 2023, from 31 percent in 2022 to 33 percent last year. This is despite China’s efforts to reduce its reliance on coal, which now contributes around 60.7 percent of power generation compared to 67.7 percent in 2015

Indonesia is the fifth-largest coal producer in the world, a rapid increase from 11th place in 2015. Its coal dependency is just behind that of The Philippines, with coal contributing 61.8 percent of the country’s power generation in 2023. Two-thirds of Indonesia’s electricity demand rise was filled with coal last year, with the rest being delivered through gas, and solar and wind power contributing just 2.3 percent. Solar and wind power increased by just 1.2 TWh between 2015 and 2023, accounting for 4 percent of renewables growth. Bioenergy generation doubled in this period, from 9.8 TWh to 22 TWh, contributing 40 percent of renewable electricity growth, followed by hydropower at 34 percent, and geothermal at 22 percent.

The Ember report suggested that The Philippines and Indonesia could both reduce their reliance on coal by deploying alternative cheap sources of electricity, such as solar and wind power. Kostantsa Rangelova, Ember’s Global Electricity Analyst, explained, “Indonesia and the Philippines could instead accelerate their development to meet the rising power demand, thereby moving closer to their net-zero targets.”

In November, Indonesia announced plans to spend $20 million on developing its renewable energy capacity, with funding coming from global lenders under the Comprehensive Investment and Policy Plan (CIPP). Indonesia's Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) outlines plans to reduce grid emissions to 250 million metric tonnes of CO2 by 2030, compared to the previous estimate of 350 million metric tonnes of CO2. Indonesia hopes to increase the contribution of renewable energy to the total energy mix to 44 percent by 2030, from just 12 percent in 2022.

As The Philippines and Indonesia rapidly increase their coal dependency, other Asian countries are showing little signs of slowing their longstanding coal reliance. In India, coal contributes around 77.01 percent of the country’s electricity generation. India’s coal production stood at 893.19 million tonnes in 2022-23, compared to 778.21 million tonnes in 2021-22, an increase of 14.7 percent. Its coal imports have also been increasing in recent years. There has been a steady increase in India’s coal production over the last decade, despite rising pressure to diversify its energy mix. There is significant potential for India to increase its renewable energy capacity, with one report suggesting that India has a potential green energy generation of 2.1 million MW.

Several countries across Southeast Asia continue to be heavily reliant on coal for their energy production, with Indonesia and The Philippines seeing an increase in coal dependency year on year. Coal is a major contributor to carbon emissions and a rise in coal use in some countries could undermine efforts to cut coal production and use in others. Meanwhile, governments must look to diversify their energy mix, to both reduce carbon emissions in line with climate aims and boost energy security. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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