On Tuesday, the European Commission proposed a phased ban on Russian coal imports worth 4 billion euros ($4.3 billion) a year as part of a fifth package of sanctions designed to designed to reduce the war potential of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other proposals target Russian imports of technology and manufacturing, worth another €10 billion ($10.9 billion).
Europe has imposed sanctions sanctions on the Russian economy since Putin’s tanks arrived in Ukraine at the end of February, but have stopped targeting the Russian energy sector – so far. Images of unarmed civilians, bound and shot, lined the streets of Bucha – which until recently was under Russian occupation – persuaded leaders to change course.
More details on the new round of sanctions are expected, including the timing of the ban on coal, on Wednesday when EU ambassadors meet for talks. The measures still need the approval of all 27 member states.
Coal sanctions will hurt some European countries, but it is one of the easiest sources of energy to get rid of – much of the world already does. The more complicated question is: What happens next?
How much Russian coal goes to Europe? According to the International Energy Agency, Russia is the world’s third largest coal exporter in 2020, after Australia and Indonesia, with Europe being the largest customer by far.
IEA data shows that the continent received 57 million tonnes of hard coal from Russia that year, compared with 31 million tonnes for China. That amounts to more than half of Europe’s coal that year, according to Eurostat.
But the EU has turned its back on the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel.
According to analysis by energy consultancy Ember, the amount of electricity generated from coal has been steadily declining across the bloc in recent years, falling 29% between 2017 and 2019.
And despite a brief rally last year when gas prices hit record highs, the IEA predicts that European coal demand will continue to decline steadily. Total imports are expected to fall 6% by 2024 even before Russia invades Ukraine.
Other countries can buy Russian coal. The IEA expects India’s coal imports to grow by 4% by 2024 and by more than 6% in Southeast Asia. Russia has benefited from increased exports to China following Xi Jinping blocking Australian importsThe agency said in a December report.