King Coal Gets Fatter, While The US Goes on a Diet


This is the 5th installment in a series that examines data from the recently released 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Next week’s installment will be on carbon dioxide emissions, and that will wrap up the series.

The previous posts were:

Today’s post delves into the global coal picture. The highlights are:

  • Global coal consumption reached an all-time high in 2012
  • China continues to dominate the global supply and demand picture in coal
  • Outside of China, coal consumption has been on the decline
  • The US has recently had the largest declines in coal consumption of any country in the world
  • Many European countries have experienced strong percentage gains in their coal consumption

Coal Consumption

But for China…

In 2012, global coal consumption increased by 101 million metric tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) to an all-time global record of 3.7 billion tons of oil equivalent. (The use of “oil equivalents” standardizes the different grades of coal and also allows easy energy comparisons to other energy sources). This represents a doubling of global coal consumption in the past 20 years. To put the 2012 increase in perspective, global oil consumption last year only increased by 49 million tons of oil. Thus coal continues to be the fastest growing fossil fuel.

The global increase in coal consumption rests squarely with China. While the world as a whole saw an increase in coal consumption last year of 101.3 Mtoe, China’s increase alone was 112.5 Mtoe. India added another 27.7 Mtoe, but no other country experienced a consumption increase above 10 Mtoe. This means if not for China, the world would have seen coal consumption decrease by 11 Mtoe in 2012.

Global coal consumption has long been dominated by China. Just 20 years ago China’s share of coal consumption was only 17%, but in 2012, China consumed 50.2% of the world’s coal. The US was the second leading coal consumer last year at 11.7% of the world’s total, but Chinese and US coal consumption are headed in different directions.

Whereas China was the country that increased coal consumption by the most in 2012, the US was the country that decreased coal consumption by the most. US coal consumption fell by 58 Mtoe in 2012 to lead all countries.

The same trend holds true over the previous 5-year period. From 2007 to 2012, global coal consumption increased by 530 Mtoe. Coal consumption in China increased by 553 Mtoe during that period, which means that once more outside of China, world consumption of coal actually decreased over the past five years. The country leading that decrease was once again the US, which saw coal consumption decline by 136 Mtoe over the past five years. No other country in the world decreased their coal consumption by more than 10 Mtoe over the past 5 years. Canada was second behind the US with a 5-year decline in coal consumption of 9 Mtoe.

Rounding out the Top 5 behind China and the US, the top global consumers of coal in 2012 were India (8.0%), Japan (3.3%), and the Russian Federation (2.5%). Asia Pacific as a whole used 68.9% of the world’s coal in 2012, and non-OECD countries accounted for 71.8% of the world’s coal consumption.

The Top 2 global coal producers in 2012 were the same countries as the Top 2 global consumers. China produced 47.5% of the world’s coal in 2012, followed by the US (13.4%), Australia (6.3%), Indonesia (6.2%), and India (6.0%). Asia Pacific as a whole produces 67.8% of the world’s coal, and non-OECD countries account for 74.7% of the world’s coal production.

Interestingly, most of the countries that saw the sharpest percentage increases in coal consumption from 2011 to 2012 were in Europe. Portugal led all countries with a 31.4% increase in coal consumption in 2012, followed by Chile (25.1% increase), Spain (24.2% increase), the UK (24.0% increase), New Zealand (21.3% increase), and France (20.1% increase). Many of the countries experiencing sharp growth in their percentage of coal consumption are countries heavily associated with pushes to renewable energy, or that have a strong nuclear power portfolio (France). I am not suggesting that there is a cause and effect there, but it is interesting to me and worthy of future investigation.

If you look at trends over the past five years, most of the countries showing the strongest percentage decreases in coal consumption were European. These countries include Denmark (47.6% decrease), Finland (34.3% decrease), Austria (33.8% decrease), and Sweden (33.2% decrease). Iran was the only non-European country to make the Top 5 with a 33.0% decrease in coal consumption since 2007, while the US ranks 8th on the list with a 23.6% decrease.

But global coal consumption has increased by 16.6% over the past five years, because those increasing their coal consumption tend to use a lot of coal. The top percentage increases over the past five years were Argentina (157% increase, but still a small user overall), Chile (76.4% increase), Columbia (70.1% increase), Malaysia (62.0% increase), and Bangladesh (58.3% increase). Of the heavy users of coal, China saw their consumption climb by 41.9% while India’s was right behind them with a 41.8% increase.


In a nutshell, the challenge with coal is that the vast majority of coal is both produced and used by developing countries. Their production and consumption is growing, while that in developing countries is shrinking. The growth in production in developing countries has more than doubled over the past decade despite the fact that the marker price for Asian coal has more than tripled in the past 10 years.

In the final installment of this series, I will discuss carbon dioxide emissions. Given that coal has the highest associated carbon dioxide content per unit of energy among the fossil fuels, the trends there won’t come as a surprise.

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