Which Countries Are Most Reliant on Coal?
Global energy policies and discussions in recent years have been focused on the importance of decarbonizing the energy system in the transition to net zero.
However, despite efforts to reduce carbon emissions, fossil fuels still account for more than 80% of primary energy use globally—and coal, the world’s most affordable energy fuel, is also the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions.
The graphic above uses data from the Statistical Review of World Energy to show how much select countries rely on fossil fuels, particularly coal.
Coal’s Importance in Emerging Economies
Coal is the largest source of electricity generation and the primary fuel for iron, steel, and cement production, making it central to climate and energy discussions.
The fossil fuel continues to be an affordable and abundant source of energy, particularly in emerging economies where demand is expanding rapidly.
South Africa is the world’s most coal-dependent nation featured in the statistical review, with coal accounting for 69% of its primary energy consumption in 2022.
|Primary energy use, by fuel type (2022)|
|Country||Coal %||Oil %||Gas %||Other %|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||69%||22%||3%||6%|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||23%||43%||17%||17%|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||3%||36%||35%||25%|
Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding. Select countries shown above.
In 2022, global consumption of coal surpassed 8 billion tonnes in a single year for the first time, with China and India being the two biggest consumers in absolute terms.
China’s power sector alone accounts for one-third of global coal consumption. Meanwhile, with a growth rate of 6% annually, India has doubled its coal consumption since 2007—and is expected to lead the growth in coal consumption for years to come.
Coal Demand in Developed Countries
U.S. consumption of coal has dropped almost 50% compared to the early 2010s.
With initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which includes nearly $370 billion to accelerate the U.S.’s energy transition, coal consumption is expected to remain on a downward trajectory in the United States.
Source: BP Energy Outlook 2023. The forecast is based on BP’s scenario for global net-zero emissions by 2050.
The same movement is seen in the European Union.
France, for example, only has 2.5% of its primary energy consumption coming from coal, a share that is just half of what it was in the early 2000s.
In Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, coal still accounts for 18.9% of total energy consumption (a small increase over 2021, due to the energy crisis). However, a decade ago in 2012, that number stood even higher at 24.9% of primary energy use.
With coal consumption falling in developed nations but remaining steady in emerging economies, the International Energy Agency projects that coal demand will plateau at 2022 levels until 2025 when it will begin to fall.
The Frequency of Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S.
The Maui fire is the latest of many disasters in the U.S. And data shows that frequency of costly weather disasters has increased.
Frequency of Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S.
Wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui have had devastating effects on people, towns, and nature, and the final cost is nowhere near tallied. They are the latest of many climate disasters in the U.S.—and data shows that their frequency has been increasing.
These graphics from Planet Anomaly use tracking data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to show the average number of days between billion-dollar weather disasters in the U.S. from 1980 to 2022.
NOAA’s database examines billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in America. Total associated damages and costs for each event are adjusted for inflation using the 2023 Consumer Price Index (CPI).
Disasters are categorized as one of seven different types:
- Drought: Prolonged dry spells resulting in water shortages and reduced soil moisture.
- Flooding: Overflow of water inundating land usually due to intense rainfall or melting snow.
- Tropical Cyclone: Intense rotating storm systems known as hurricanes.
- Severe Storm: Includes windstorms and tornadoes, hail, lightning, and heavy precipitation.
- Winter Storm: Heavy snow, freezing rain, and icy conditions impacting transportation and infrastructure.
- Wildfire: Uncontrolled fires consuming vast areas of forests and vegetation.
- Freezes: Sub-zero temperatures damaging crops and infrastructure, such as pipes or energy lines.
The average days between billion-dollar disasters are calculated from the start dates of adjacent events within a single year.
Days Between Billion-Dollar Disasters in the U.S. (1980‒2022)
Between 1980 and 2022, there were 155 total disasters in the U.S. that cost more than a billion dollars in damages when adjusted for inflation.
And when looking at the average number of days between these billion-dollar events within each year, we can see the decades becoming more and more costly:
|Year||Avg. Days Between Disasters|
Back in the early 1980s, the average interval between these major disasters (within each year) was 75 days. Even more starkly, 1987 had no climate disasters that topped $1 billion in damages, while 1988 only had one.
Fast forward to 2022, and that average window has drastically reduced to a mere 20 days between billion-dollar disasters in the United States.
Breaking Down Billion-Dollar Disasters by Type
Of the 155 disasters tracked through 2022, the majority have been in the form of severe storms including tornadoes, windstorms, and thunderstorms.
The worst severe storms include an outbreak of tornadoes in April 2011 across many central and southern states, with an estimated 343 tornadoes causing a total of $14 billion in CPI-adjusted damages. In August 2020, a powerful derecho—a widespread and intense windstorm characterized by straight-line winds—devastated millions of acres of crops across the Midwest and caused $13 billion in adjusted damages.
But the most expensive disasters so far have been hurricanes. Eight hurricanes top the inflation-adjusted damages charts, with Hurricane Katrina’s unprecedented devastation in 2005 leading with a staggering $194 billion.
Will the U.S. be prepared for more costly disasters going forward? And will climate change continue to accelerate the pace of weather disasters in the U.S. even more?
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