Last year, people around the globe burned more coal than ever before — a record 3.09 billion tons of oil equivalent, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute. That’s an increase of 4.5 percent over 2005 levels, meaning coal now provides a full one-fourth of the world’s primary energy.
Yes, coal is plentiful — moreso than petroleum — but it’s also environmentally destructive and the worst thing you can burn if you’re concerned about global warming. Worldwatch says you can blame coal for about 40 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, even though it accounts for only 32 percent of fossil-fuel-based energy.
So where did the burning of coal increase the most last year? It should come as no surprise that the answer is: China. China’s increased use of coal in 2006 accounted for more than 70 percent of the world’s consumption growth. China now uses 39 percent of the world’s coal; second-place, third-place and runner-up titles go to the U.S. (18 percent), the European Union (10 percent) and India (8 percent).
If current trends continue, worldwide coal consumption could rise to as much as 10.7 billion tons of oil equivalent by 2050, according to a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT researchers warn a “significant charge on carbon emissions” is needed soon to develop economically viable ways of capturing and storing carbon from coal. The U.S., they add, need to take the lead on this, as it’s unlikely that China or India will.
“A true reconciliation of the coal resource and the climate risk that it presents must soon confront coal power on its new home turf,” the Worldwatch report states.
Unfortunately, we’re not there yet … no matter how many “clean coal” commercials you see on TV.