If business as usual continues for the world’s climate policy, the EIA’s mid-range projections show consumption of coal — the dirtiest fossil fuel in terms of carbon emissions — increasing by over a third by 2040. It nearly doubles by that time under the worst case scenarios. Specifically, the EIA’s “Reference Case” projects global coal consumption jumping from 147.4 quadrillion Btu of energy in 2010 to 219.5 in 2040. That’s despite coal dropping slightly, from 28 to 27 percent, as a share of the world’s overall energy supply.
But looking across the range of scenarios the EIA lays out, coal consumption could only reach 182.2 quadrillion Btu by 2040 — or go as high as 297.3 quadrillion Btu.
What the EIA’s interactive tables also reveal is that virtually all this increase in consumption will come from China, India, and the developing world. Under every scenario, the United States’ coal consumption plateaus around 22 quadrillion Btu between 2010 and 2040. The advanced countries as a whole stop at 44.8 quadrillion Btu total in 2010, then stay flat or decrease slightly. Meanwhile, China, India, and the other developing countries in Asia rocket from 88.4 quadrillion Btu in 2010 to 156.8 quadrillion under the Reference Case — or 231.6 quadrillion under the worst case scenario. Russia and the other developing European, the Middle East, Central and South America, and Africa all see jumps of varying degrees as well.
At around 20 quadrillion Btu of consumption in 2040, America will remain the third biggest user of coal in the world. The onus remains on us to throw everything we’ve got at renewables, regardless of what the rest of the world is doing.