Although it has received less attention than the plunge in oil prices since mid-2014, the drop in coal prices has had a profound impact on global energy markets. Underpinning the weakness in coal prices is the decline in coal consumption in China for the first time this century, while pledges to reduce CO2 emissions made by dozens of countries ahead of the UN climate negotiations in Paris in December 2015 are also providing negative sentiment for coal producers. Partly offsetting the gloom is demand from a few populous emerging economies in Asia – particularly India – and the high odds that coal will remain China’s top energy source for several years to come.
Market players are now wondering if coal prices have hit the bottom, how long producers can survive at these levels and when oversupply will be balanced. Whereas the low prices make coal producers struggle, they prove very attractive for power generators despite increasingly strong environmental policies, growing competitiveness of renewables and declining gas prices.
This year’s edition of the IEA’s Medium-Term Coal Market Report presents, for the first time, a Chinese "Peak Coal" case, which explores the factors that could cause coal use in China to enter a structural decline. It also studies the potential impact of such a peak on supply, prices and trade flows. As in past editions, the report analyses recent trends in coal supply, demand and trade; provides forecasts for the next five years, and gives insights on questions that concern industry and policymakers.