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Charts show the Asia-Pacific region’s heavy reliance on coal as an energy source


Mountains of coal in the port of Rizhao in Shandong Province, China on November 2, 2021.

VCG | Visual China Group | Getty Images

The Asia-Pacific region is home to some of the world’s largest emitters of carbon – and experts say much of global efforts to combat climate change depend on Asian countries reducing their reliance on coal.

According to the latest edition of BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy, a widely cited report, the region was responsible for 52% of global carbon emissions over the past year.

China alone contributed 59% of the region’s emissions, while India made up 13.7%, the report shows.

Global leaders and environmentalists gathered this month in Glasgow, Scotland, for the United Nations Climate Change Summit known as COP26. They hope to eventually phase out fossil fuel use – including coal – to cut carbon emissions and limit global warming.

On Thursday 28 countries joined an international alliance dedicated to phasing out coal, but the world’s largest coal burners – like China and India – have not signed up.

Switching to renewable energies is “far too slow”

Coal accounted for more than a quarter of the world’s primary energy consumption. Primary energy refers to energy in its original form – like coal and oil – and before it is converted into other resources.

Slightly less than half – or about 47.8% – of the energy consumed in the Asia-Pacific region last year came from coal, according to the BP report. This percentage of coal consumption is the highest among the geographic groups listed in the report, which included Africa, Europe and North America.

While net-zero goals come thick and fast, virtually all of the details on how to achieve them are missing.

Gavin Thompson

Asia Pacific Vice Chairman Wood Mackenzie

In the Asia-Pacific region, coal accounted for more than half of energy consumption in China and India last year, the data showed.

The region’s transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources has remained “far too slow,” said Gavin Thompson, vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific region at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

“Much of it comes from government policy. And while net-zero goals come thick and fast … virtually all of the details on how to achieve them are missing, ”Thompson said in an October report.

“Without policy progress, Asia’s future growth still seems too dependent on fossil fuels, especially coal,” he added.

Net zero emissions refer to achieving an overall balance between the greenhouse gas emissions generated and the greenhouse gas emissions removed from the atmosphere, either naturally or through the use of nascent carbon capture technology.

Asian countries get on board

Some of the Asian countries that have announced their climate pledges include:

Indonesia – the world’s largest exporter of steam coal – aims to meet 23% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2025 and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2060.

A combination of taxes and subsidies is needed to help coal companies gradually transition to a greener industry, said Indonesia’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati.

“We don’t want to destroy business, we want it to have an affordable and just transition,” she told CNBC’s Sustainable Future Forum in October.

The role of China and India

The use of coal is one of the many problems separating developed and developing countries in order to limit environmental damage.

India previously argued that developing countries have contributed little to CO2 emissions in the past and urged developed countries to play a bigger role. India is the third largest emitter of CO2 in the world.

China – the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide – has also called on developed countries to help their developing countries do more.

It is not clear whether countries could bridge their differences at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow.

Shortly before the climate summit, the heads of state and government of the group of 20 major economies did not explicitly commit to being CO2 neutral by 2050 and promised an end to subsidies for fossil fuels, emphasized economists at the French bank Natixis.

“That leaves the door open to bringing coal-fired power plants home, especially for the coal-dependent economies that could suffer badly from the energy transition, such as China and India,” the economists said in a report last week.

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They noted that the targets announced by China and India for net zero emissions – by 2060 and 2070, respectively – are later than the 2050 timeframe deemed necessary to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The Climate Action Tracker consortium, which tracks government measures, guidelines and targets, classified the commitments made by China and India as “very inadequate”. India’s rating was created before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the target for net zero emissions.

“Long-Term” Impact on Growth in China

Still, China has good reasons to work towards net zero carbon emissions, said David Murphy, head of quantitative insights into China at Credit Suisse.

“Beijing sees this as a growth driver and is therefore switching to green energy, to decarbonization as a growth engine, especially at a time when the traditional drivers in China – housing, investments in property, plant and equipment – [are] peak, “he told CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia last week.

Murphy said China is a leader in industries like solar power and electric vehicles. These industries can generate economic growth for China “for a long time,” he added.

– CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.