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2018 saw a further bounce back in coal – building on the slight pickup seen in the previous year – with both consumption (1.4%) and production (4.3%) increasing at their fastest rates for five years. This strength was concentrated in Asia, with India and China together accounting for the vast majority of the gains in both consumption and production
Diggers loading coal onto a train
“All of the growth in global coal consumption went into the power sector. Renewable energy grew quickly, but not quickly enough to meet all the growth for power demand and coal was sucked into the power sector as a balancing fuel.”

Spencer Dale, group chief economist

Coal consumption

Coal consumption increased by 1.4% in 2018, the fastest growth since 2013.


Growth was again driven by Asia Pacific (71 Mtoe), and particularly by India (36 Mtoe). This region now accounts for over three quarters of global consumption, while 10 years ago it represented two thirds. The growth in coal demand was the second consecutive year of increases, following three years of falling consumption.  As a result, the peak in global coal consumption which many had thought had occurred in 2013 now looks less certain.


OECD demand fell to its lowest level since 1975. Coal’s share in primary energy fell to 27.2%, its lowest in 15 years. 

Consumption by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)
Consumption by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)

Coal production

World coal production increased by 105 million tonnes of oil equivalent or 3.2%, the fastest rate of growth since 2011.

Production rose by 56 mtoe (3.6%) in China and 23 mtoe (6.9%) in the US. Interestingly, the increase in US production came despite a further fall in domestic consumption, with US coal producers instead increasing exports to Asia.

Coal production by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)
Coal production by region (million tonnes oil equivalent)

Coal reserves

World coal reserves in 2018 stood at 1055 billion tonnes and are heavily concentrated in just a few countries: US (24%), Russia (15%), Australia (14%) and China (13%).


Most of the reserves are anthracite and bituminous (70%). The current global R/P ratio shows that coal reserves in 2018 accounted for 132 years of current production with North America (342 years) and CIS (329 years) the regions with the highest ratio.

Reserves to production (R/P) ratios – 2018 by region (years)
Reserves to production (R/P) ratios – 2017 by region (years)
Reserves to production (R/P) ratios – history (years)
Reserves to production (R/P) ratios – history (years)
Includes data from Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR) Energy Study 2017.

Coal prices

Steam coal prices rose globally in 2018. Specifically, China thermal coal prices kept trending downward in 2018 after hitting a four-year high in Feb. 2018.

 Qinhuangdao spot FOB prices for 5,500 kcal/kg NAR coal averaged 655 CNY/per metric ton in 2018, slightly higher than 640 CNY/ per metric ton in 2017.

The steam coal price in most regions in the US increased in 2018. The price of Northern and Central Appalachian coal, driven by strong international demand for both metallurgical and steam coal, increased by 42% and 38% in 2018, respectively.

Coal prices ($ per tonne)
Coal prices ($ per tonne)

S&P Global Platts, c 2018, S&P Global Inc. Prices are for Central Appalachian 12,500 BTU, 1.2 SO2 coal, fob. Prices for 1996-2000 are by coal price publication date, 2001-2005 by coal price assessment date. 2006-2017 weekly CAPP 12,500 BTU, 1.6 SO2 coal, fob.

Coal trade

Global coal imports rose by 6.5% in 2018, the highest rate since 2013.


Three countries accounted for more than 70% of coal exports in 2018: Australia (29%), Indonesia (26%) and Russia (16%); and almost 80% of traded coal was imported by India (55%) and countries in the Other Asia Pacific region (24%).


India, the world’s second largest coal country importer, registered a sharp increase in coal imports in 2018 (+25.5% y/y) with deliveries by Australia, Indonesia and South Africa accounting for 84% of total imports. China, the world’s largest country coal importer, also saw a rise in coal imports in 2018 (+4.6% y/y), delivered mainly by Australia (35%) and Indonesia (31%)