That means that China is unlikely to experience a peak in its coal demand until sometime in the 2020s, the IEA said, taking a much less sanguine view than other research which predicts that the world's largest emitter could reach the high point for demand before the turn of the decade.
“Longer-term trends might suggest peak coal in China during the next decade. However, we do not see that peak in the outlook period unless economic growth is much lower than assumed,” the IEA said in its medium-term outlook for global coal demand and supply.
Commentators have said in recent reports that the later that China’s coal demand reaches it zenith, the more difficult it will be for the country to meet a commitment to peak greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.
The IEA said China will be “the coal giant for many years in the future,” forecasting that demand annually will grow at 2.6% or more than 100 million tonnes a year up until 2019, meaning that the country would account for 60% of new coal demand.
The IEA coal report shows why it is difficult for developing countries to commit to ambitious carbon targets, particularly India, as they continue to rely on the fuel to expand the electricity grid and power future economic growth.
Annual coal consumption in India is forecast to grow 177 million tonnes of coal-equivalent, 5% annual growth on average during the rest of the decade, meaning the country will become the world’s second-largest consumer of the fuel.
Other Asian economies, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, will be building new coal capacity, around 30GW between them over the IEA’s five-year outlook period.
But the IEA said this looks small compared with China, which has added double this on average per year since 2005.