This is a short guide where we outline how much coal is left in the world.
We look at total numbers, as well as how many years of coal supply there might be left.
Summary – How Much Coal Is Left, & When Will We Run Out?
Proven world recoverable reserves of coal sat at 1.1 trillion short tons in 2015
Various estimates indicate that the amount of coal we have left will last us anywhere from 68 years to a hundreds of years.
But, it can depend on factors like future recoverable coal reserves increasing, present and future production and consumption levels of coal, how long gas and oil reserves take to run out (which can place more or less demand on coal, across different uses and activities), the improvement of mining technology and equipment (for better access or cheaper extraction), how efficient coal plants are, the economy of countries like China that are currently heavy coal users, and so on
One set of data indicates that the world’s proven coal reserves have actually increased from 2008 to 2017.
With this in mind, it’s possible that as we determine supply is running low or demand is outstripping supply, we can invest more in new exploration (and confirmation of) new proven reserves.
This approach would replenish reserves as required
But, this approach depends on there actually being accessible reserves out there that can be mined in an economically feasible way
The countries with the largest proven coal reserves are the US, Russia, Australia, China and India
Distinction should be made between the different types of coal reserves such as hard vs soft coal, black vs brown coal, and so on
Many of the same considerations and factors applicable to oil reserves are applicable to coal reserves when making estimates and forecasts for future supply – read a guide on future oil reserves here to get informed on some of those considerations and factors
How Much Coal Is Left In The World, & Which Countries Have The Most Proven Coal Reserves?
As of December 31, 2015, estimates of total world proved recoverable reserves of coal were about 1,136 billion short tons, (or 1.1 trillion short tons).
Five countries had about 74% of the world’s coal reserves. The top five countries and their share of world proved coal reserves:
There are an estimated 1.1 trillion tonnes of proven coal reserves worldwide.
Coal reserves are available in almost every country worldwide, with recoverable reserves in around 70 countries. The biggest reserves are in the USA, Russia, China and India.
How Much Longer (How Many Years) Will Coal Reserves Last – When Will We Run Out?
… there is enough coal to last us around 150 years at current rates of production.
[Taking into consideration the current rate of coal production and current known fuel reserves, we have about 114 years worth of coal reserves left]
It’s often claimed that we have enough coal to last hundreds of years.
But if we step up production to fill the gap left through depleting our oil and gas reserves, the coal deposits we know about will run out in 2088.
In the US:
Based on U.S. coal production in 2017 of about 0.78 billion short tons, the recoverable coal reserves would last about 325 years, and recoverable reserves at producing mines would last about 26 years.
The actual number of years that those reserves will last depends on changes in production and reserves estimates
Total Coal Reserves vs Recoverable Coal Reserves
It’s important to distinguish between total coal reserves and how much of that is recoverable coal reserves.
Recoverable coal includes ‘only the coal that can be mined with today’s mining technology after considering accessibility constraints and recovery factors’.
Estimating How Much Coal Is Left Can Possess At Least Some Level Of Uncertainty
Estimating exactly how much coal is left can be slightly difficult because coal is buried underground
Estimates are made based on varying levels/degrees of geologic certainty
Further to this – new reserves of different fossil fuels can be found which increase the current reserve estimation totals. Although, this new reserves are usually small.
It’s worth reading this guide about why we may never run out of certain mined resources.
Is There Hope For The Future (What Will We Do) If We Run Out Of Coal?
As long as this trend increases (i.e. we can keep continuing new recoverable reserves when current reserves are dipping) – there isn’t as much to worry about.
Renewable energy sources and alternative energy sources like solar, wind, water, nuclear energy and others offer energy sources for the future separate to coal.
New technology that can increase energy efficiency may also help, as well as reducing energy consumption.
Burning The Remaining Coal Reserves, & Global Warming
Something that is not often discussed is that the quantity of coal reserves left needs to be put in context with the impact of burning it on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change/global warming.
… we will have to leave between 65 to 80 percent of current known reserves untouched if we are to stand a chance of keeping average global temperature rise below our two-degrees global target