Coal falls as gas rises: World energy balances in 2016

Global coal production fell significantly in 2016, while global trade in natural gas was up. These are two of the key messages in World Energy Balances, the IEA’s comprehensive picture of energy statistics. These data are drawn from official national data submissions to the IEA from around 150 countries and regions globally.1Some of the key features of energy in 2015 and 2016 are set out below.

Coal production fell sharply in China in 2016 by around 320 million tonnes or 9% – a fall equal to more than the total production from South Africa, the world’s 5th largest coal exporter. Coal production also fell elsewhere, such as the US and Australia, leading to global output falling by 458 million tonnes.

World total coal production (Mt)

One reason why production fell in China was lower demand, particularly for power generation, though China still uses half the world’s coal. Lower coal demand has also been seen across the OECD, specifically in the US and the UK. So globally, despite an increase in India, global coal consumption in 2016 fell by around 2% in energy terms.

Change in World total coal consumption 2015 - 2016 (Mtce)

The move away from coal generation is most clear within the OECD, where electricity generation from gas in 2016 was virtually equal to coal generation for the first time ever.

OECD gross electricity production

The greater demand for gas led to increases in trade, with growth in pipeline gas trade going into the OECD and LNG trade going to Asia.2 Together the increases saw total global gas imports increase by about 47 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2016 – around 4.5% higher than 2015.

Change in gas imports,  2015 – 2016

Alongside the growth in gas generation, 2016 also saw the continued increase of renewable generation across the OECD and in countries like China. In the OECD, renewables generation grew by 3.8% to account for 23.8% of all electricity generated, its highest share to date. The growth was largely driven by wind and solar PV, which saw annual average growth rates of 21% and 43% between 2000 and 2016.

Annual growth rates of electricity production between 1990 and 2016 in OECD countries

Looking at United States production, one of the consequences of lower production of coal, oil and gas in 2016 is that OECD Americas dropped just below 100% energy self-sufficient after reaching the level in 2015. However, also visible is the steady increase in OECD Asia Oceania’s self-sufficiency ratio, which is now broadly equivalent to that of OECD Europe, driven in large part by increased production in Australia.

OECD energy self-sufficiency, 1971-2016

Shares of fuels in global energy demand changed little from 2014 to 2015. In fact, aside from oil and gas, which have changed their shares significantly over the past forty years, the overall shares of fuels in global energy demand have changed little since 1971. Oil remains the most used fuel, mainly for transport, followed by coal, mainly for electricity generation..


Likewise the share of energy use across the world was similar in 2015 to 2014, but the past 40 odd years have witnessed a significant change: Non-OECD Asia is now virtually matched with the OECD as the leading energy consumer.


Detailed data on consumption are more complex for countries to collect and as such comprehensive data at the global level are only available to 2015. Yet these show that between 1971 and 2015, total final consumption (TFC) more than doubled. However, the sectoral share of energy use did not change significantly, with the exception of energy use in transport which increased from 23% of TFC in 1971 to 29% in 2015.


In addition to World Energy Balances and its companion publication World Energy Statistics, the IEA releases 5 fuel-based Statistical Information books and datasets: coal, oil, natural gas, electricity and renewables. Together these represent the most complete set of energy statistics available globally.