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Coal market developments: Falling prices amid record-high output

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Coal market developments: Falling prices amid record-high output

This blog post is part of a special series based on the April 2024 edition of the Commodity Markets Outlook, a flagship report published by the World Bank. This series features concise summaries of commodity-specific sections extracted from the report. Explore the full report here.

Coal prices inched up in May (m/m) following an 8 percent decline in 2024Q1.  The Australian and South African benchmarks have plummeted more than 60 percent from their peaks in 2022, driven by soft economic activity and lower gas prices, which negatively affected demand for coal in the power sector. This significant drop has been bolstered by robust supply and gradually increasing penetration of renewable electricity. Nonetheless, prices remain well above their 2015-19 average. A sharp decline in prices has already unfolded in 2024, compared to the 2023 average, with further reductions anticipated in 2025 as renewable power generation meets rising electricity demand. Major risks to this outlook include stronger-than-expected growth in China's power output and hydropower shortfalls.

Global consumption hits a record high.
In 2023, coal consumption is estimated to have reached a record high, increasing by 120 million tons (1.4 percent) compared to 2022. However, demand growth decelerated due to weak global economic activity, high penetration of renewable electricity, and lower natural gas prices. In the United States and the European Union, demand fell by an estimated 100 million tons each, while it rose by approximately 220 million tons in China and 100 million tons in India. The global demand shift towards Asia persisted in 2023, with China and India currently accounting for 70 percent of total consumption.

Global coal production remains robust.
Production is estimated to have increased by about 150 million tons (Mmt) in 2023. In India, output rose by approximately 100 Mmt, while China's production grew by about 50 Mmt, partly due to enhanced safety measures in domestic mines. Conversely, production in the United States and the European Union declined by roughly 50 Mmt and 70 Mmt, respectively. In Australia, production stagnated due to labor shortages and sluggish exports to China, which have not fully recovered after China lifted its ban on Australian imports in January 2023, originally imposed in 2021.

Global trade reaches record highs.
In 2023, global coal trade is estimated to have reached a record high, increasing by 100 Mmt. The growth was largely driven by a 150 Mmt rise in Chinese imports, as domestic production could not keep pace with growing consumption. Reflecting these consumption patterns, the Asia Pacific region accounted for approximately 80 percent of global coal imports.  In the meantime, the European Union has continued to substitute exports from Russia by increasing trade with several commercial partners including the Australia, Colombia, South Africa and the United States.


Coal prices are expected to decline by 28 percent in 2024 and a further 12 percent in 2025.
Upside risks to the coal price outlook includes higher-than-expected growth in China’s consumption and various factors that could lower renewable electricity production, such as low rainfall or light wind conditions. Downside risks include ample supply and weaker-than-expected global growth. The baseline assumption that China’s coal demand peaked in 2023 may be challenged by stronger-than-expected growth in power generation, as seen in 2021, or shortfalls in output from hydropower, as in 2023. Additionally, new coal mines are under development in China, and about 110 GW of coal plants were approved in 2023, indicating that domestic coal consumption could continue to rise. Production data covering 2024Q1 indicate that coal demand in the power sector in China will increase in 2024 unless renewable generation booms over the summer months or demand for electricity decreases.

Paolo Agnolucci

Senior Energy Economist, EFI-Prospects Group, World Bank

Kaltrina Temaj

Research Analyst, Prospects Group, World Bank

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