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South Africa is becoming Europe’s alternative to Russian coal

16 Jun 2022

Starting in mid-August, European Union countries will stop importing coal from Russia, which means they’ll have to find alternative suppliers. Already, South Africa is one such supplier, and the world’s fifth largest exporter of coal.

Between January and May of this year, roughly 40% more tons of coal have been exported to Europe from South Africa’s Richards Bay Coal Terminal (RBCT) than were exported in all of 2021, according to Reuters. Recipient countries include Spain, Poland, and Germany, which did not import any South African coal last year, as well as France, which increased its imports sevenfold year-over-year.

The degree to which the EU depends on energy import varies by country (lower in Estonia, higher in Cyprus), but the average dependency rate across the bloc was 58% in 2020.

Given the EU’s energy dependance on Russia in particular, the bloc’s decision to stop importing Russian coal over Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is an audacious one. Of the three countries that supplied most of the EU’s coal in 2020, Russia accounted for 54%, while the US, and Australia supplied a combined 30%. Russia makes $4.4 billion annually from coal exports to the EU. That money is now headed elsewhere.