Russia invades Ukraine, holding a United Nations meeting

European leaders have planned to phase out imports of Russian coal in response to the heartbreaking scenes in Bucha, a kyiv suburb.

On Tuesday, the European Commission proposed a phased ban of 4 billion euros ($4.3 billion) a year on Russian coal imports as part of a fifth set of sanctions aimed at further reducing the war chest of the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other proposals target Russian technology and manufacturing imports, worth an additional 10 billion euros ($10.9 billion).

Europe has imposed punitive sanctions on the Russian economy since Putin’s tanks arrived in Ukraine in late February, but has refrained from targeting Russia’s energy sector – until now. Images of unarmed civilians, tied up and shot, lying along the roads of Bucha – which was until recently under Russian occupation – convinced the leadership to change tack.

More details on the new round of sanctions, including the timing of the coal ban, are expected on Wednesday when EU ambassadors meet for talks. The measures still need to be approved by all 27 member states.

Sanctioning coal will bite some European countries, but it’s one of the easiest energy sources to wean off of – much of the world is already doing it. The trickier question is: what happens next?

How much Russian coal goes to Europe? Russia was the world’s third-largest coal exporter in 2020, behind Australia and Indonesia, according to the International Energy Agency, with Europe by far its biggest customer.

The continent received 57 million tonnes of Russian coal that year, compared to 31 million tonnes for China, according to IEA data. This accounted for more than half of European coal that year, according to Eurostat.

But the EU was already turning away from the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world.

The amount of electricity generated by coal has declined steadily across the bloc in recent years, falling 29% between 2017 and 2019, according to analysis by energy think tank Ember.

And despite a brief rise last year as gas prices hit record highs, the IEA expects European coal demand to resume its steady decline. Total imports were expected to fall by 6% by 2024 even before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Other countries could step in to buy Russian coal. The IEA expects coal imports from India to increase by 4% in 2024 and by more than 6% in Southeast Asia. Russia has already benefited from a jump in exports to China following Xi Jinping’s blocking of Australian imports, the agency said in a December report.

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