Fossil Fuels Dominate Primary Energy Consumption

Coal, natural gas, and oil accounted for 87 percent of global primary energy consumption in 2012 as the growth of worldwide energy use continued to slow due to the economic downturn.1 The relative weight of these energy sources keeps shifting, although the change was ever so slight. Natural gas increased its share of global primary energy consumption from 23.8 to 23.9 percent during 2012, coal rose from 29.7 to 29.9 percent, and oil fell from 33.4 to 33.1 percent.2 The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2017 coal will replace oil as the dominant primary energy source worldwide.3 

The shale revolution in the United States is reshaping global oil and gas markets. The United States produced oil at record levels in 2012 and is expected to overtake Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas combined in 2013.4Consequently, the country is importing decreasing amounts of these two fossil fuels, while using rising levels of its natural gas for power generation. This has led to price discrepancies between the American and European natural gas markets that in turn have prompted Europeans to increase their use of coal for power generation. Coal consumption, however, was dominated by China, which in 2012 for the first time accounted for more than half of the world’s coal use.5 

Natural gas consumption grew by 2.2 percent to 2,987 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) in 2012—more than triple the level in 1970.6 (See Figure 1.) The largest increases in 2012 took place in the United States (an additional 27.6 mtoe), China (12.0 mtoe), and Japan (10.1 mtoe).7

The Worldwatch Institute is an independent research organization known around the world for its accessible, fact-based analysis of critical global issues. Learn More