There are several reasons for this, but one stands out: government support. In India state-owned companies invest more than $6bn in coal mining and coal-fired power each year; statebacked banks provide some $10.6bn in financing. Indonesia doles out more than $2bn annually for consumption of coalfired power. Japan and South Korea finance coal projects outside their borders, too.
Government support is hardly surprising. State-backed coal firms make money and create jobs. Wind turbines and solar panels provide power only intermittently; for now, dirtier power plants are needed as back up. Gas is pummelling coal in America, but remains a bit-player in India and much of South-East Asia, since it has to be imported and is relatively expensive.
Disentangling coal from the region’s economies is difficult. Indonesian coal companies are a powerful lobby; not coincidentally, power tariffs favour coal over wind and solar projects. In India coal subsidises passenger fees on railways. And heavy lending by state-owned banks has tied the health of the financial system to that of the coal industry.
Nevertheless, governments betting on coal face three big risks. One is environmental. Emissions from coal plants that are already built—let alone new ones—will ensure that the world exceeds the level of carbon-dioxide emissions likely to push global temperatures up by more than 1.5°C.