Coal Could Surpass Oil As World’s Top Energy Source By 2017

By 2017, the world will increase its coal consumption by more than 1.2 billion tons per year — equivalent to the current coal use of the U.S. and Russia combined. That’s according to a new report on the booming coal sector from the International Energy Agency.

Many have hailed the drop in U.S. coal consumption over the last year as a modestly positive trend for climate; however, that decrease is being overshadowed by a boom in developing countries, particularly China. The IEA projects that China will account for 70 percent of coal consumption by 2017:

Coal accounted for 45 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2011. Without a slowdown in coal consumption, China’s carbon emissions hockey stick is about to get a lot sharper. Here’s what it looks like already:

The same could be true in India as well, a country that will account for 22 percent of growth in coal consumption. According to a recent report from the World Resources Institute, there are more than 1,200 coal plants planned around the world, most of which will be built in China and India. If all the plants in the pipeline are built, they would amount to a generation capacity four times greater than the current American coal fleet.

Here are some key stats reported by the IEA in its latest assessment:

  • Coal demand is growing everywhere but the United States. The trend of the last decade continued in 2011, with coal supplying near half of the incremental primary energy supply globally. Coal demand grew 4.3% in 2011, or 304 million tonnes (mt). Chinese demand grew by 233 mt. The only region where coal demand declined was the United States. That drop is neither policy-driven nor a consequence of recession but rather the result of the availability of cheap gas.
  • Even though coal demand growth is slowing, coal’s share of the global energy mix is still rising, and by 2017 coal will come close to surpassing oil as the world’s top energy source. The world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared with today. That’s more than the current annual coal consumption of the United States and Russia combined.
  • China has become the largest coal importer in the world. In 2009, China became a net coal importer for the first time. In 2011, it became the largest coal importer, surpassing Japan, which had held the position for decades. Chinese imports (including Hong Kong) reached 204 mt in 2011 and they continued to grow in 2012.
  • Indonesia has become the largest coal exporter in the world. As another example of the increasing weight of non-OECD countries, Indonesia surpassed long-standing leader Australia as the largest exporter on a tonnage basis. Floods in Queensland in 2010-2011 constrained Australian exports, while Indonesia growth did not stop, surpassing the 300 mt line.

As both the World Bank and the International Energy Agency have pointed out in recent scientific summaries, we are on a path toward disastrous climate change — and only a dramatic re-thinking of policies can set us on a path toward manageable warming.

47 Responses to Coal Could Surpass Oil As World’s Top Energy Source By 2017

  1. prokaryotes says:

    OMG, this is soooooo wrong. What are people expecting, the problem will not go away, instead we do literally everything to make sure it gets worst case.

  2. BillD says:

    This is the most discouraging news about climate that I have seen in quite a while. The Chinese are not climate change deniers. The US really needs to develop policies that allow us to provide international leadership.

  3. Will Fox says:

    When will this madness end?

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Probably when climate disruption takes place or fossil fuel – coal advocates are successful sued for denial or ecocide.

  5. PeterW says:

    Perhaps the only hope is for solar to become ridiculously cheap and distributed power takes the place of centralized power?

  6. catman306 says:

    Well at least someone thinks the fossil fuel madness will continue as long as 2017. I wonder if the natural environment will allow our civilization 5 more years?

  7. Bleekerstreet says:

    I couldn’t have expressed it any better. Of all the climate challenges we’re facing right now, the greatest is overcoming despair. It’s one fight we can’t lose.

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Yes. And at the same time China drives clean tech development, nevertheless this is no longer an excuse to develop massive amounts of coal power plants.

  9. prokaryotes says:

    The latter suggest we are in deeper trouble than previously thought.

    Tipping Points in Earth Climate System (2012 Arctic Methane Special)

  10. prokaryotes says:

    Meant to reply to Bleeerstreet, above.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    The best way to slow or prevent increased coal burning in China and India is for the US to take serious action against global warming. That will free Chinese leadership to stand up to their own fossil fuel oligarchies.

    IEA projections will see an upside down hockey stick when political leaders finally face reality. There is nothing inevitable about those charts.

    People can google my “What About China and India?” if they want more background details.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    Robert Bryce at the Daily Beast documents “A Desperate Need for Electricity in China and Other Developing Countries Is Fueling Global Coal Use”

  13. M Tucker says:

    Yes the Chinese are not climate deniers. Yes China is building a lot of renewable power. Yes China does lead the world in solar water heating. But the actual truth of the matter has not changed in the past four years. China is a coal sink! China energy depends on massive amounts of coal. China is raping the environment of Mongolia to supply itself with coal and even that is not enough. China imports massive amounts of coal to support its current energy needs. AND, as this report makes clear, China will continue to increase the amount of coal it depends on. Why do you think the coal companies want to build coal exporting facilities in the Pacific Northwest?

    So, for me anyway, this is not really news. I have not seen anything that would encourage me to think anything has changed with China except the occasional news report of China’s interest in developing its domestic shale gas (fracking).

  14. Joan Savage says:

    Bloomberg has the latest prices on Indonesian coal swaps. These are the prices to beat on BTUs to get China and India off coal and onto other sources of electricity.
    “Swaps prices advanced for a fourth day for thermal coal from Indonesia, the world’s largest exporter of the fuel for power stations, according to Ginga Petroleum Singapore Pte.

    “The swap for Indonesian sub-bituminous coal with a calorific value of 4,900 kilocalories a kilogram in the first quarter of 2013 rose 35 cents to $63.55 a metric ton on a net- as-received basis yesterday, Ginga said in an e-mail today. The January contract also climbed 35 cents to $63.55 a ton.

    “Contracts for coal with a heating value of 5,500 kilocalories a kilogram for shipment to South China in the first quarter remained at $84 a ton on a net-as-received basis, the energy broker said. The swap for January held at $83.65.”

  15. Turboblocke says:

    Has anyone looked at the logistics of mining and delivering this quantity of coal? Wouldn’t it require massive infrastructure investment year on year?

    Are the grassroots opposition to building coal power stations taken into account?

  16. Joan Savage says:

    Go for it. Big question, worth an article.

    Reports are astounding.
    China is constructing coal-dedicated railroads.

    Indonesia surpassed Australia as thermal coal exporter.

    There may be grassroots protests in India, China, South Korea, and Indonesia, but how to find out?

  17. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Linear projections are only accurate when there is stability of context and this cannot be assumed for coal, ME

  18. Joan Savage says:

    Coal could be part of a different kind of positive-feedback loop as populations in India, Indonesia, and other tropical and sub-tropical locations – like Oklahoma! – insist on air-conditioners, driving demand for coal-fired electricity, and thus releasing more CO2 and HFCs, both greenhouse gases. Heat up the planet and the demand for air-conditioning or its like can only be expected to increase.

  19. Mike Roddy says:

    Correct. It’s like sales projections for horse buggies in 1910.

  20. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Homes in India and Indonesia are cool without air con because they are designed that way and need no more that slow moving fans, ME

  21. Joan Savage says:

    Traditional homes wouldn’t surprise me, but the NYT found a burgeoning demand for AC in the cities.

  22. Artful Dodger says:

    The 2017 date is a mere milestone for consumption. The Conference of Parties (COP) agreement at Durban in 2011 has already set in stone that their will be no international agreement to limit carbon in force before 2020.

    This does not mean that there will be one in place after 2020. Only that there will NOT be one before 2020. That gives Big Oil enough time to pocket another trillion $ in profits from pollution.

    Comfy yet? They sure are.

  23. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Very sad as well as crazy given their patchy supply, ME

  24. ozajh says:

    Absolutely disagree. Check out the homes where the AVERAGE Indian or Indonesian lives; a rural hut or a small urban apartment (at best).

    Those ‘slow moving fans’ (in upper class/colonial buildings) were all they had, and used to have lower class people dedicated to manually operating them. Google ‘punkah wallah’ for details, and consider the implications.

    Many, many people died of heat-related causes in India and Pakistan last year when there was an unusually (even by their standards) hot spell recently.

    YES, we should take passive factors into account when designing living spaces. But we cannot ignore the fact that in the tropics some form of mechanical air cooling massively improves the quality of life, and it is going to be demanded.

  25. paul magnus magnus says:

    It’s the wrong direction….

  26. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    As I’ve said interminably, this can no longer be considered, by any rational mind, to be accidental. The concerted efforts by the ruling elites to push the Frackenstein disaster, mine more and more coal, establish useless emissions trading schemes rather than simple, effective, carbon taxes, sabotage climate negotiations, subvert renewables and eviscerate environmental laws and regulations simply must be deliberate efforts to ensure an ecological catastrophe.

  27. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The advantage that China enjoys is that, while it utilises capitalist methods to implement policy, it carefully plans efforts on a nationwide and intergenerational basis. There is an excellent piece in today’s The Guardian concerning China’s planned expansion of its rail network, and contrasts it with the ‘free market’ free-for-all of railway development in 19th century UK and USA, which wasted so many resources and so much money in duplication and over-capacity on profitable routes. In fact I’m absolutely convinced that the Chinese, who are planning a rail network from China to Rotterdam in Holland with spur lines to all the countries of Eurasia, are nowadays the last, least worst, hope for humanity.

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    How long is a piece of string?

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Protests will be muted in the poor world because poverty is a priority over climate stability. The rich world must take the lead because it can afford it and bears the greatest share of the blame for the historic burden of emissions up to about 1990. Of course, the ‘rich’ world is no longer rich. More and more rich world populations are falling into poverty, misery, want and even hunger, as inequality burgeons. We are, in truth, destroying our world not to enrich and raise up humanity to a decent sufficiency of life’s good things, but to ever further enrich a tiny and insatiably greedy pathocratic global elite.

  30. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Now there’s a business opportunity about to re-open.

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Just so long as they don’t go bonkers and develop a taste for the hideous ‘McMansions’ with no verandahs, not even eaves, acres of West-facing glass and huge air-con plants, like the ‘aspirational’ Australians.

  32. paul magnus says:

    Canada is full out developing LNG and coal as well as tar sands. its all quite disappointing…

    Video: Travelling Canada’s Carbon Corridor – the Making of Fractured Land
    Watch this presentation by Damien Gillis, co-director of the documentary in production Fractured Land, at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Fe…

  33. A.J. says:

    And to think not long ago we were seeing blog entries from a Sierra Club rep. suggesting King Coal was in terminal decline. Wishful, or at least premature, thinking maybe? As I suggested at the time, resting on our laurels after a few (fleeting?) regional victories isn’t a great idea.

  34. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    You forgot the black roofs in Perth’s hot climate. Black looks so cool.

  35. prokaryotes says:

    Well, i do not think so, because there is no future not even for the elite. Ofc, this can be due to a lack of information.

    Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are thought to have caused the world temperature gradient from north to south to become almost flat: temperatures were about the same across the planet. Average temperatures were also higher than today by about 10°C. In fact, by the middle Cretaceous, equatorial ocean waters (perhaps as warm as 20°C in the deep ocean) may have been too warm for sea life, and land areas near the equator may have been deserts despite their proximity to water. The circulation of oxygen to the deep ocean may also have been disrupted.
    Different studies have come to different conclusions about the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere during different parts of the Mesozoic, with some concluding oxygen levels were lower than the current level (about 21%) throughout the Mesozoic

  36. Joan Savage says:

    Just to put some perspective on my own comment, the electricity demand in developing economies of India, China, Indonesia, and South Korea has huge industrial and commercial components as well as residential.

    A difference among them being the qualities of the feedback loops. Think of factories that use electricity for melting aluminum, electroplating, sewing garments, and on and on.

  37. Bill Goedecke says:

    Actually rail in the US was not developed under free-market conditions – it started out that way, but the whole industry was consolidated and regulated by the end of the 19th century.

  38. Paul Magnus says:

    Full-Throttle Battle Underway to Stop Coal Chute to China

  39. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Colonialism accentuated the inequality in every country it touched and it still grows. As the masses get poorer and scrable for the basic necessities, the old adaptive ways get forgotten and we are all the poorer for that, ME

  40. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I tend to disagree because I see the elites thrown up by neo-liberal capitalism as both wicked and stupid. Sure they know how to steal, misappropriate, defraud, blackmail, suborn and corrupt-all the dark arts of the moneyed elites, but their general level of intelligence is often clearly low. They have their flunkies to do the intellectually difficult stuff, and they stick to hiring, firing, intimidating etc-all techniques learned from their forebears or at their elite schools and training grounds. There are just too many deliberate actions being taken that make economic, ecological and social collapse inevitable, so they must either be even dumber than I think, and really believe the denialist disinformation they pay for, or really think that they can ride out the storm and emerge with their power even greater. After all we know with certainty that population reduction has been a central concern of the elites for decades, repeatedly discussed at their elite cabals like the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg meetings etc

  41. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Thanks for the correction. A lot was built by Chinese, too, was it not?

  42. TheZeitgeist says:

    Hey, wait a second. I thought the Chinese were “beating us to a clean future” with all these “investments in green technologies!?”

    And what’s up with those Germans? I thought they were Euro-green trendy, too.

    But after spending $billions$ on hot sexy solar tech, the Germans committed themselves to shutting down all their nuclear plants. And don’t forget the windmills! Windmills and windmills and windmills! Everything was going for Team Green.

    Then Germans suddenly realized they still like electricity. What’s up with that? Twenty-five new Deutsche coal plants by 2017 or so, that’s what up.

  43. Rinkesh says:

    Not a good news to read for environmentalists. Why persist with this madness when renewable energy is so clean, cheap and sustainable?!!