Coal Information: Overview

Comprehensive historical review and current market trends in the world coal sector
In this report

Coal Information provides a comprehensive review of historical and current trends in the world coal sector, covering coal production, consumption and trade.

Detailed and comprehensive coal balances – physical and energy – include figures on supply, demand, trade, production and consumption by end-user for each OECD country individually and for the OECD regions, and are provided by coal product and main aggregates. Trade data are reported extensively by origin and destination, and also by product. Calorific values by coal type and flow are also provided for all the time series for OECD countries and aggregates.

Coal Information is one of a series of annual IEA statistical publications on major energy sources; other reports are Oil Information, Electricity Information, Natural Gas Information and Renewables Information.

Data Service
Overview

With the global economy slowing down and the widespread objective of having less carbon-intensive power generation in the face of pollution and environmental concerns, coal1 consumption fell in 20192. The depth and combination of those dynamics in the many economies of the world were different and consequently the coal market reacted differently: major Asian economies such as China4 and Indonesia increased their coal consumption whilst the United States, the European Union5 and India decreased their consumption.

World coal consumption variation, 2018-2019 provisional

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Total world coal production increased by 1.5% in 2019, half the growth rate of the previous years.

Asia produced what Europe and US did not. The extra Chinese production equalled the drop in EU+US production.

World total coal production, 1971-2019 provisional

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China, the world’s biggest producer, remains at 4% annual growth rate, at 3,693 Mt in 2019.

India reduced production for the first time this century and only for the second in history. In 2019, production in India amounted to 769 Mt, 0.9% less than in the previous year, due mainly to a decrease in coal-fired power generation impacted by higher hydro generation.

Indonesia continues ramping up its production, +12.4% in 2019, the highest growth rate since 2016, when it returned to positive year on year changes

The United States continues the falling production trend that started at the beginning of the century, reaching 640 Mt in 2019, the lowest level seen in four decades.

The European Union also saw its deepest decrease in coal production ever in 2019, down by 68 Mt or 15.4%. The main actors of this are Germany, Poland and Greece, with year on year falls of -38, -10 and -9 Mt respectively. Furthermore, Spain stopped its coal production in 2019.


Exports of all types of coal increased by 1.3% in 2019 to 278 Mt. This is the smallest growth rate since 2016.

Indonesia, Australia and Russia are still the main providers of coal worldwide; the United States and Colombia3 have negative double-digit year-on-year rates.

The destination of most of the imports is Asia i.e. China, India, Japan and Korea; imports into Viet Nam doubled from the previous year and EU imports decreased by one-fifth.

World coal supply and trade trends, 1990-2019 provisional

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The main coal trading countries have changed over the last three decades, for both exports and imports.

Nowadays, Indonesia and Australia supply more than half of the global exports, 2/3 if Russia is included. Back in 1990 Australia and the United States were the main exporters with around one-fifth each, but since then the share originating in the United States has significantly decreased, to less than 6%. From 2000 countries such as Mongolia and Colombia became more significant. However, the strongest growth over the past 30 years has come from Indonesia, which now accounts for almost one-third of the global coal exports market.

On the side of imports, China currently buys one-fifth of the coal put on the international market, but back in 2000 its presence was negligible. On the contrary, the European Union was the major importer in 1990 and has been reducing its coal imports consistently since then, from holding 35.4% of the global share to less than 10% currently. Viet Nam was the big surprise of the last decade, turning from exporter to importer in 2005 and increasing demand over the years since then.

Share of coal imports, 1990-2019 provisional

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Share of coal exports, 1990-2019 provisional

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Indonesia exported the most, and also showed the highest growth, adding 21 Mt to the previous year figure. Other countries with big increases in exports were Australia, South Africa and Philippines, this last one making three times the exports in 2018. Conversely, the United States saw the largest decrease in exports, with one fifth less than in the previous year, -21 Mt. Due a drop in extraction in one of the main mines and droughts that cut operations Colombia continued reducing exports, 12 Mt less in 2019 compared to 2018, -14.4%.

Total coal exports by major exporters, 1978-2019 provisional

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In 2019 China and India were again the two main coal importers, with 298 and 247 Mt respectively; both with higher quantities than in the previous year, +6.3% and +11.0% respectively. The largest growth in imports happened in Viet Nam, with the country almost doubling the volume of coal imported, now at 44Mt (+21 Mt, +94.8%). Far from Asia, the European Union reduced coal imports by one-fifth, down 33 Mt to134 Mt, reaching a historical minimum.

Total coal imports by major importers, 1978-2019 provisional

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Coal consumption decreased by 1.2% worldwide in 2019.

The EU and US made the major year-on-year change, which offset the growth in China and Indonesia. India slightly decreased the coal consumption.

World coal consumption, 1978-2019

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China continues to be the major consumer of coal worldwide, with its 2,866 mtce comprising 53.0% of the global share. India follows in second place with 585 mtce, 0.4% less than last year. The United States and the European Union are the leaders of the coal phase-out; they both set historical minimum consumption in 2019 but are still the 3rd and 4th global coal consumers in the world, with 397 mtce and 253 mtce, respectively. These four markets account for three quarters of the global coal consumption. Indonesia’s coal consumption hit a historical maximum in 2019 at 115 mtce.


The input of coal for electricity and heat generation increased in 2018 compared to 2017 by 3.3% or 166 Mt. In contrast, the overall industrial sector, and namely the iron & steel industry, consumed less coal than in the previous year. Regarding the residential, commercial and public services sector, its share on the total consumption remained minor, 2.5%.

Primary coal's breakdown by activity for selected economies, 1978-2018

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Despite more coal being used in the electricity and heat generation sector in absolute terms, the share of coal-fired generation in the power mix is decreasing in several economies, namely in the United States and most of the European countries, but also in China.

Coal is also essential for the iron and steel industry and its use has increased substantially during the last 30 years, driven primarily by increased production in China, although a slight decline can be observed starting in 2013.

References
  1. Primary coal includes anthracite, coking coal, lignite, sub-bituminous coal and other bituminous coal, and steam coal includes anthracite, sub-bituminous coal and other bituminous coal.

  2. Data for 2019 are provisional

  3. Colombia joined the OECD in April 2020. However, data for Colombia are not included in the OECD aggregates in this edition. OECD includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

  4. China refers to People’s Republic of China unless otherwise specified.

  5. European Union refers to EU28, which includes Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Data for the European Union start in 1990.