The European Union banned Russian coal imports in response to the invasion of Ukraine as part of sanctions in April. Since then, it’s been scrambling to find alternative sources including Colombia, Australia and the US.
A loaded dump truck passes an empty truck as it carries away coal at the Kedrovsky open-pit coal mine in Kemerovo, Russia, Tuesday, June 16, 2015.
EU puts a stop to Russian coal imports after years of heavy dependency
Russian coal imports to the European Union are not permitted for the foreseeable future starting this Wednesday.
The EU forbade coal imports from August 10 as part of a sanctions package against Russia that was announced in April. That EU sanctions package of April was one of the first to take direct aim at Moscow’s energy industry.
The time between April and August was meant for European countries to look for alternatives, which meant either ramping up coal supplies from other countries, increasing domestic production if feasible, or looking for other alternatives to generate electricity.
EU’s reliance on Russian coal imports
The EU still relies on Russian coal imports to generate electricity, with Russia accounting for 70% of the EU’s thermal coal imports, according to a report by Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank that focuses on policy and economic issues.
Germany and Poland are particularly dependent on thermal coal imports, the Bruegel report said.
Brian Ricketts from the European Association for Coal and Lignite (Eurocoal) told DW he expected the EU to start importing more coal than before — as it looks for alternatives to the much more significant power source it imports from Russia, gas.
“We believe that this will happen because up to 120 terawatt hours of electricity production from gas are to be replaced by hard coal and lignite. That would save around 22 billion cubic meters of gas a year, far more than any other individual measure,” Ricketts said.
The EU has steadily ramped up coal supplies from several countries, like Colombia, Australia and the United States, data from Braemar shipping services show.
EU ramps up coal supplies from other countries
European countries imported 7.9 million metric tons of thermal coal in June, more than doubling year-on-year, according to data from Braemar. However, it was about 2 million tons less than in April and May.
Imports from Colombia reached 1.2 million tons in June, compared with just 287,000 tons in June last year, according to Braemar.
Similarly, imports of thermal coal from Australia in June, about 1.1 million tons, were the highest on record. Imports from the United States also rose by nearly 28% year-on-year in June.
The European Commission’s chief spokesman Eric Mamer said last week in Brussels that he expected member states to stick to the sanctions, seeing as their leaders had unanimously agreed on them at the European Council.
“We will of course monitor the situation, but we have no doubt that the member states will implement the decision,” Mamer said.
EU’s energy challenge
Bruegel said in the report, published in March, that replacing Russian coal was only part of the energy challenge facing the EU. The EU might need to import more coal if it stopped gas and oil supplies, the report said.
In July, the EU announced another package of sanctions, including a partial embargo on Russian oil. The sanctions ban seaborne imports of Russian oil from December 5, 2022, and petroleum products from February 5, 2023.
The EU said pipeline imports of Russian oil would be allowed, with oil-dependent countries like Hungary and Slovakia exempt as well.
The EU’s emergency gas plan to shore up gas supplies for the winter went into effect this week too.
Even though the EU stepped up imports of coal to plug a potential energy shortfall, the International Energy Agency in June said Europe should also boost efficiency and renewables, including nuclear power, to cope with energy scarcity.