In the city hall of San Carlos, on the island of Negros in the Philippines, lays out the local government’s ambitions. It wants San Carlos to be “a model green city”, “a renewable energy hub for Asia” and “a sustainable tourism destination”. But the local officials sitting directly beneath the sign are keen to talk about something else: why a plan to build a coal-fired power plant nearby is an excellent idea.
Coal drives Asia. Between 2006 and 2016 the continent’s consumption of it grew by 3.1% a year. Asia now accounts for fully 75% of global demand for the stuff (see chart 1). China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal. Largely as a result, it also emits more carbon dioxide than any other country. India is the second-biggest consumer. Japan and South Korea are also big consumers, while Australia and Indonesia are big producers. South-East Asia was the only region in the world in which coal’s share of power generation grew last year, according to the International Energy Agency (iea), a research body. And four of the five countries that shell out the most in subsidies for the fuel are Asian.