Global Coal Use Stagnates Despite Growing Chinese and Indian Markets

Saya Kitasei | Nov 10, 2010

Global use of coal fell by just under 0.5 percent in 2009 to 3,278 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) from the all-time high of 3,286 mtoe in 2008, interrupting the trend of rapid growth—an average of 4.3 percent annually—that has defined global coal markets over the last decade.1 (See Figure 1.) The global commodity boom that drove coal consumption and prices up in 2008 ended, sending prices plummeting over 40 percent in some markets.2 (See Figure 2.)

The decline in consumption reflected diverging trends in North America, Europe, and Japan on the one hand, where the recession, low natural gas prices, and environmental concerns drove coal use down at least 10 percent, and China and India on the other hand, where coal demand remained strong.3 Because these two major coal-dependent economies buffered global coal markets against the recession, use of coal fell less than use of any other fossil fuel, and coal’s share of global primary energy consumption rose to 29.4 percent in 2009, its highest level since 1970.4

China continued to be the largest and one of the fastest-growing coal markets in the world, with usage rising 9.6 percent to 1,537 mtoe in 2009, or 46.9 percent of total world coal consumption.5 The increase in coal use in China between 2008 and 2009 was greater than the total 2009 usage in Germany and Poland combined.6 In 2009, China became a net importer of coal for the first time, thanks to a surge in imports of steam coal (the grade used in boilers for electricity generation) from Australia, Indonesia, and Viet Nam.7 In part, this was due to growing profit opportunities for buying imported coal, the price of which was depressed in response to reduced global demand, and then reselling it domestically, where prices remained relatively high thanks to strong demand and government policies designed to limit domestic production and shore up prices.8


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