Coal is a variety of solid, combustible, sedimentary, organic rocks, 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. Carbon is the main component of coal, which also contains varying amounts of other components, like hydrogen, oxygen, sulphur and other impurities. Main parameters used to define coal are calorific value, ash, moisture and sulphur. Many different classifications of coal are used around the world, reflecting a broad range of ages, composition and properties.

Global coal demand stalls after more than a decade of relentless growth

Annual IEA coal report sees market under intense pressure, reflecting Chinese economic restructuring and global environmental policies More »»

IEA updates official carbon emissions data ahead of climate change negotiations,

While CO2 emissions from fuel combustion rose 2.2% in 2013, the increase held below the average rate since 2000 More »»

A sea change for the coal market

The coal market is undergoing significant change, with global demand stalling after a decade of aggressive growth More »»

About coal

Coal, the second source of primary energy (roughly 30%), is mostly used for power generation (over 40% of worldwide electricity is produced from coal). In addition, coal is used to produce virtually all non-recycled iron. Coal is abundant, affordable, easy to transport, store and use, plus free of geopolitical tensions; all these attributes made it very popular. On the other hand, pulverized coal plants are the most carbon-intensive source of power generation, and this is a real issue, as CO2 emissions need to be dramatically and urgently reduced. Whereas more efficient plants are built across the world, the transition from subcritical to supercritical (and ultra-supercritical) technology is very slow. And even worse news is that the dramatic reduction of CO2 emissions that our climate targets require is possible only through development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Progress on CCS is very disappointing.

Our focus

Coal use took off during the Industrial Revolution and never stopped growing globally. Coal use will be significant also in the future. The IEA believes that greater efforts are needed by government and industry to embrace less polluting and more efficient technologies to ensure that coal becomes a much cleaner source of energy in the decades to come.

Fast facts

  • 46% of added energyCoal supplied 1520 Mtoe of the 3292 Mtoe of additional global primary energy supply from 2000 to 2012
  • 200 MW/dayTotal new coal generation capacity commissioned in the world in 2010-14