Future of coal unclear

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China uses and produces the most coal globally despite oil remaining the world's largest energy source, according to research from the Worldwatch Institute. From 2001 to 2011, China accounted for 80 percent of the global increase in coal demand. China alone accounted for 49.5 percent of global coal production in 2011, according to the research.

Driven mainly by rising demand in China and India, coal's share globally reached 28 percent in 2011-- its highest point since 1971 when the International Energy Agency began keeping track.

China alone accounted for nearly half of all coal use in 2011. The U.S. remains the second largest coal user, even though U.S. demand decreased by around 5 percent in 2011 and continued to fall in 2012 due to the shale gas boom and the abundance of cheap natural gas. Even with declining demand, the U.S. still accounts for 45 percent of coal demand.

Globally, China produces the most coal. However, the U.S. holds the largest coal reserves, with 28 percent of the global total.

Growth in the global coal sector has been strong but could falter going forward. Coal demand could slow with the introduction of new energy technologies and policies to reduce the environmental and health effects of coal; rising global concern over carbon emissions and climate change could spur on the transition from coal to natural gas. Concerns about hydraulic fracturing cheaper natural gas could undermine growth in renewable energy.

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