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Which Countries Have the World’s Largest Coal Reserves?

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The Countries With the Largest Coal Reserves

The Countries With the Largest Coal Reserves

Cheap and abundant coal remains one of the largest sources of energy worldwide, even as governments set out goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While jurisdictions in Europe and North America have been phasing out coal use in power generation, it has been on the rise in Asia. China and India are scrambling to provide electricity to a growing population and relying on coal power plants to meet demands despite the environmental costs.

This infographic takes a look into the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021, and the 11 countries that make up 89% of the coal reserves globally.

Coal Reserves, by Country

While countries need to phase out coal by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC, consumption in key markets is forecast to increase for the next few years and coal-fired electricity generation could hit a record in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.

China leads the consumption, buying more than half of the global production and also producing 50% of the world’s coal.

Although the country recently announced a plan to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, it is still building coal power projects elsewhere in the world, according to the Coal Finance Tracker by EndCoal. Japan and South Korea are also still strongly financing coal extraction in Southeast Asia.

A shortlist of countries in four continents control ~1 billion tonnes of coal:

CountryCoal Reserves (million tonnes)Share of Global ReservesRegion
U.S. 🇺🇸248,94123%North America
Russia 🇷🇺162,16615%Europe
Australia 🇦🇺150,22714%Oceania
China 🇨🇳143,19713%Asia
India 🇮🇳111,05210%Asia
Germany 🇩🇪35,9003%Europe
Indonesia 🇮🇩34,8693%Asia
Ukraine 🇺🇦34,3753%Europe
Poland 🇵🇱28,3952%Europe
Kazakhstan 🇰🇿25,6052%Asia
Turkey 🇹🇷11,5251%Europe

To put the numbers into perspective, the world has about 139 years of coal left at current consumption levels and excluding unproven reserves.

What are the Different Types of Coal?

Coal is formed when dead plant matter submerged in swamp environments is subjected to heat and pressure over hundreds of millions of years. Over time, the plant matter turns into a carbon-dense black or brownish-black sedimentary rock – coal.

There are four major types or “ranks” of coal, based on the types and amounts of carbon the coal contains and on the amount of heat energy the coal can produce:

  • Anthracite: The highest rank, is a hard, brittle, and black lustrous substance. It contains a high percentage of fixed carbon and is mainly used in stoves, furnaces, and water filtration systems. Formation: 300-360 million years old.
  • Bituminous: Middle rank, usually has a high heating (Btu) value and is used in electricity generation and steel-making. Formation: 100-300 million years old.
  • Sub-bituminous: Black, not shiny, it has low-to-moderate heating values and is mainly used in electricity generation. Formation: 100 million years old.
  • Lignite: Also called brown coal, it has the least concentration of carbon, low heating value, and is mainly used in electricity generation. Formation: 250 million years old.

Anthracite and bituminous coal make up 70% of coal reserves. The other 30% are divided between sub-bituminous and lignite.

The Future of Coal

Coal combustion still accounts for 40% of global CO2 emissions from energy use, despite all the efforts to reduce the share of power generated by fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, the coal mining industry employs about 8 million people and creates revenues of more than US$900 billion a year.

While growth in coal investments is slowing, coal use is unlikely to decline substantially in the medium term.

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Energy Shift

Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country

Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.

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Solar and Wind per Country

Mapped: Solar and Wind Power by Country

Wind and solar generate over a tenth of the world’s electricity. Taken together, they are the fourth-largest source of electricity, behind coal, gas, and hydro.

This infographic based on data from Ember shows the rise of electricity from these two clean sources over the last decade.

Europe Leads in Wind and Solar

Wind and solar generated 10.3% of global electricity for the first time in 2021, rising from 9.3% in 2020, and doubling their share compared to 2015 when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

In fact, 50 countries (26%) generated over a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar in 2021, with seven countries hitting this landmark for the first time: China, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Argentina, Hungary, and El Salvador.

Denmark and Uruguay achieved 52% and 47% respectively, leading the way in technology for high renewable grid integration.

RankTop Countries Solar/Wind Power Share
#1🇩🇰 Denmark 51.9%
#2🇺🇾 Uruguay 46.7%
#3🇱🇺 Luxembourg 43.4%
#4🇱🇹 Lithuania 36.9%
#5🇪🇸 Spain 32.9%
#6🇮🇪 Ireland 32.9%
#7🇵🇹 Portugal 31.5%
#8🇩🇪 Germany 28.8%
#9🇬🇷 Greece 28.7%
#10🇬🇧 United Kingdom 25.2%

From a regional perspective, Europe leads with nine of the top 10 countries. On the flipside, the Middle East and Africa have the fewest countries reaching the 10% threshold.

Further Renewables Growth Needed to meet Global Climate Goals

The electricity sector was the highest greenhouse gas emitting sector in 2020.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the sector needs to hit net zero globally by 2040 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. And to hit that goal, wind and solar power need to grow at nearly a 20% clip each year to 2030.

Despite the record rise in renewables, solar and wind electricity generation growth currently doesn’t meet the required marks to reach the Paris Agreement’s goals.

In fact, when the world faced an unprecedented surge in electricity demand in 2021, only 29% of the global rise in electricity demand was met with solar and wind.

Transition Underway

Even as emissions from the electricity sector are at an all-time high, there are signs that the global electricity transition is underway.

Governments like the U.S., Germany, UK, and Canada are planning to increase their share of clean electricity within the next decade and a half. Investments are also coming from the private sector, with companies like Amazon and Apple extending their positions on renewable energy to become some of the biggest buyers overall.

More wind and solar are being added to grids than ever, with renewables expected to provide the majority of clean electricity needed to phase out fossil fuels.

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Energy Shift

How Far Are We From Phasing Out Coal?

In 2021 coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs. Here’s the pathway that would be needed to phase it out of the energy mix.

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Phasing_Out_Coal

How Far Are We from Phasing Out Coal?

At the COP26 conference last year, 40 nations agreed to phase coal out of their energy mixes.

Despite this, in 2021, coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs globally, showing that eliminating coal from the energy mix will not be a simple task.

This infographic shows the aggressive phase-out of coal power that would be required in order to reach net zero goals by 2050, based on an analysis by Ember that uses data provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Low-Cost Comes at a High Environmental Cost

Coal-powered electricity generation rose by 9.0% in 2021 to 10,042 Terawatt-hours (TWh), marking the biggest percentage rise since 1985.

The main reason is cost. Coal is the world’s most affordable energy fuel. Unfortunately, low-cost energy comes at a high cost for the environment, with coal being the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions.

China has the highest coal consumption, making up 54% of the world’s coal electricity generation. The country’s consumption jumped 12% between 2010 and 2020, despite coal making up a lower percentage of the country’s energy mix in relative terms.

Top Consumers2020 Consumption (Exajoules) Share of global consumption
China 🇨🇳82.354.3%
India 🇮🇳17.511.6%
United States 🇺🇸9.26.1%
Japan 🇯🇵4.63.0%
South Africa 🇿🇦3.52.3%
Russia 🇷🇺3.32.2%
Indonesia 🇮🇩3.32.2%
South Korea 🇰🇷3.02.0%
Vietnam 🇻🇳2.11.4%
Germany 🇩🇪1.81.2%

Together, China and India account for 66% of global coal consumption and emit about 35% of the world’s greenhouse gasses (GHG). If you add the United States to the mix, this goes up to 72% of coal consumption and 49% of GHGs.

How Urgent is to Phase Out Coal?

According to the United Nations, emissions from current and planned fossil energy infrastructure are already more than twice the amount that would push the planet over 1.5°C of global heating, a level that scientists say could bring more intense heat, fire, storms, flooding, and drought than the present 1.2°C.

Apart from being the largest source of CO2 emissions, coal combustion is also a major threat to public health because of the fine particulate matter released into the air.

As just one example of this impact, a recent study from Harvard University estimates air pollution from fossil fuel combustion is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths globally.

The Move to Renewables

Coal-powered electricity generation must fall by 13% every year until 2030 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of keeping global heating to only 1.5 degrees.

To reach the mark, countries would need to speed up the shift from their current carbon-intensive pathways to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

How fast the transition away from coal will be achieved depends on a complicated balance between carbon emissions cuts and maintaining economic growth, the latter of which is still largely dependent on coal power.

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