In this 14 December 2015 photo, Indian women use bare hands to pick reusable pieces from heaps of used coal discarded by a carbon factory in Gauhati, India. The world’s biggest coal users - China, the United States and India - have boosted coal mining in 2017, in an abrupt departure from 2016’s record global decline for the heavily polluting fuel and a setback to efforts to rein in climate change emissions. Photo: Anupam Nath / AP Photo

By Matthew Brown And Katy Daigle
26 June 2017

BEIJING (AP) – The world's biggest coal users - China, the United States, and India - have boosted coal mining in 2017, in an abrupt departure from last year's record global decline for the heavily polluting fuel and a setback to efforts to rein in climate change emissions.

Mining data reviewed by The Associated Press show that production through May is up by at least 121 million tons, or 6 percent, for the three countries compared to the same period last year. The change is most dramatic in the U.S., where coal mining rose 19 percent in the first five months of the year, according to U.S. Department of Energy data.

Coal's fortunes had appeared to hit a new low less than two weeks ago, when British energy company BP reported that tonnage mined worldwide fell 6.5 percent in 2016, the largest drop on record. China and the U.S. accounted for almost all the decline, while India showed a slight increase.

The reasons for this year's turnaround include policy shifts in China, changes in U.S. energy markets and India's continued push to provide electricity to more of its poor, industry experts said. President Donald Trump's role as coal's booster-in-chief in the U.S. has played at most a minor role, they said.

The fuel's popularity waned over the past several years as renewable power and natural gas made gains and China moved to curb dangerous levels of urban smog from burning coal.

Whether coal's comeback proves lasting has significant implications for long-term emission reduction targets, and for environmentalists' hopes that China and India could emerge as leaders in battling climate change. […]

China has committed to capping its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and some have suggested it might accomplish that up to a decade earlier. Xizhou Zhou, a senior energy analyst with IHS Markit based in Beijing, said the recent uptick in coal production that the AP identified raises doubts about such optimism, but he added that China is still expected to meet its 2030 deadline.

"Coal consumption will continue to increase, mainly driven by Asian countries," Zhou said. "We're seeing a recovery starting this year and an increase until the mid-2020s before you see coal plateau globally."

China's production rose more than 4 percent through May, according to government figures, compared to a drop of more than 8 percent for the same period a year earlier.

Hundreds of mines shut down in China last year and the government forced others to cut back hours in a bid to reduce an oversupply of coal and boost prices. The government has since relaxed that policy and production is rebounding. [more]

Coal On The Rise In China, Us, India After Major 2016 Drop

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