Climate Concerns Rise Alongside Growing Global Coal Consumption


Washington, D.C.—Global coal consumption rose 3 percent from 2012 to 2013, reaching over 3,800 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) in 2013. While the pace of growth is down from 7.1 percent in 2010, the continued increase in coal consumption and related carbon emissions is a cause for substantial concern among climate scientists. If this trend continues, attempts to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius will likely fail, writes Christoph von Friedeburg, a research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online article (

Looking at recent developments by region, energy-hungry emerging economies, such as China and India, have been driving the expansion in coal use since the beginning of this century. In contrast, coal consumption in the United States and the European Union (EU) is declining. These countries have been replacing part of their coal consumption with natural gas and renewable energy, although China is taking steps in the same direction.

Coal demand in China has almost tripled since 2000, rising from 683.5 mtoe to 1,933.1 mtoe in 2013—more than half of the global figure. To meet coal demand, the nation so far has been relying on its domestic production. But analysts doubt that this is sustainable for another decade or longer. As imported coal has become competitive, China’s imports have outweighed its exports since 2009.