Coal is a variety of solid, combustible, sedimentary, organic rocks that are composed mainly of carbon and varying amounts of other components such as hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur and moisture. Coal is formed from vegetation that has been consolidated between other rock strata and altered by the combined effects of pressure and heat over millions of years. Many different classifications of coal are used around the world, reflecting a broad range of ages, compositions and properties.

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About coal

Coal currently provides 40% of the world’s electricity needs. It is the second source of primary energy in the world after oil, and the first source of electricity generation. Since the beginning of the 21st century, it has been the fastest-growing global energy source. The last decade’s growth in coal use has been driven by the economic growth of developing economies, mainly China. Irrespective of its economic benefits for the countries, the environmental impact of coal use, especially that coming from carbon dioxide emissions, should not be overlooked. Despite positive efforts to build more efficient plants, to retrofit old plants and to decommission the oldest, least efficient ones, the current pace is far from what is needed. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is the most promising technology to reach near-zero CO2 emissions from large CO2 sources. Although it is developing, it is far from the required deployment-level to keep CO2emissions at acceptable levels.


Our focus

Coal use has never stopped increasing and the forecasts indicate that, unless a dramatic policy action occurs, this trend will continue in the future. If this happens, then the IEA believes greater efforts are needed by governments and industry to embrace cleaner and more efficient technologies to ensure that coal becomes a much cleaner source of energy in the decades to come.

Fast facts

  • 60% growthGlobal coal consumption grew from 4,762 million tonnes in 2000 up to 7,697 million tonnes in 2012. This is 60% growth, or 4% average growth per year.
  • +150 MW/dayIn the period from 2005 to 2012, China installed more than 150 MW of coal power generation capacity every day.

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