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Coal

World coal consumption fell by 6.2 exajoules (EJ), or 4.2% (its fourth decline in six years)‎, while global coal production was down 8.3 EJ (5.2%)‎
Aerial view of trucks in a quarry

Coal consumption

World coal consumption fell by 6.2 exajoules (EJ), or 4.2% (its fourth decline in six years), led by ‎declines in the US (-2.1 EJ) and India (-1.1 EJ). OECD coal consumption fell to its lowest level in our ‎data series (which goes back to 1965), led by the US (-19.1%) and South Korea (-12.2%). ‎


China and Malaysia were notable exceptions, increasing their consumption by 0.5 EJ and 0.2 EJ ‎respectively.‎


The growth in renewables last year came largely at the expense of coal-fired generation, which ‎experienced one of its largest declines on record (405 TWh, 4.4%). In addition to falling power ‎demand and increasing deployment of renewables, coal was also hurt by a loss of competitiveness ‎relative to natural gas, especially in the US and EU.‎


These trends are exactly what the world needs to see as it transitions to net zero: strong growth in ‎renewable generation crowding out coal. That said, the ‘more than doubling’ in wind and solar ‎generation over the past five years hasn’t made even the smallest dent in total coal generation.

 

The ‎level of coal generation in 2020 was essentially unchanged from its level in 2015 as last year’s fall ‎simply offset increases from the previous few years. It will take more than just strong growth in ‎renewable energy to remove coal from the global power sector, especially at the pace it needs to ‎happen. There is still a long way to go to squeeze coal out of the power sector.‎

Coal consumption by region (EJ)
Coal consumption by region (EJ)

Coal production

Global coal production was down 8.3 EJ (5.2%). As with consumption, production growth in China ‎‎(1.1 EJ) was outweighed by sharp declines in several countries, including the US (-3.6 EJ), Indonesia (-‎‎1.3 EJ) and Colombia (-1.0 EJ).‎

Coal production by region (EJ)
Coal production by region (EJ)

Coal reserves

World coal reserves in 2020 stood at 1074 billion tonnes and are heavily concentrated in just a few ‎countries: US (23%), 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 2020 ‎accounted for 139 years of current production with North America (484 years) and CIS (367 years) ‎the regions with the highest ratios. 

Reserves-to-production (R/P) ratios 2020 by region (years)
Reserves-to-production (R/P) ratios 2020 by region (years)
Reserves-to-production (R/P) ratios history (years)
Reserves-to-production (R/P) ratios history (years)
Distribution of proved reserves in 2000, 2010 and 2020 (%)
Distribution of proved reserves in 2000, 2010 and 2020 (%)

Coal prices

Coal prices fell for a second successive year in 2019, largely due to consumption falling by 4.2%. ‎Prices fell fastest in North America (25%), followed by Northwest Europe (17.4%), then Japan. Prices ‎in China were relatively resilient, falling by just 3%, amid rising coal consumption in the country.‎

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

Coal trade

Coal trade decreased by 6.2% in 2020, the second consecutive annual decline. Notable declines in ‎exports came from the US (-0.6 EJ), Australia (-0.4 EJ) and Colombia (-0.4 EJ), accounting for 70% of ‎the total decline in exports. On the import side, Europe continued to see significant declines (-1.2 EJ), ‎followed by India (-0.5 EJ) and South Korea (-0.5 EJ), which together outweighed growth in the rest of ‎Asia (0.9 EJ).‎