Vital Signs

Coal Use Rises Dramatically Despite Impacts on Climate and Health

World coal consumption in 2006 reached a record 3,090 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe), an increase of 4.5 percent over 2005, and accounted for 25 percent of world primary energy supply and 32 percent of fossil fuel energy. Due to its high carbon content, however, coal accounted for about 40 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels.

China led world coal use with 39 percent of the total, followed by the United States (18 percent), the European Union (10 percent), and India (8 percent). China’s rising coal consumption accounted for more than 70 percent of the increase in global consumption in 2006. China seems to have brought about as much coal power capacity on line each week as the United States and India together did over the entire year, an unprecedented 90 gigawatts.

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Grain Harvest Sets Record, But Supplies Still Tight

After several years of decline, the world’s grain output reached a record 2.316 billion tons in 2007, a 4-percent increase over the previous year. Yields rose 95 million tons in response to near-perfect weather in major growing areas and an estimated 5-percent jump in world fertilizer use. However, commodity analysts estimate that high demand will consume all of the increase and prevent replenishment of cereal stocks, now at their lowest level in 30 years. On average, humans get about 48 percent of their calories from grains, a share that has declined just slightly, from 50 percent, over the last four decades. Grains, especially corn and soybeans, are also the primary feedstock for industrial livestock production.

China, India, and the United States currently account for 46 percent of global grain production; Europe, including the former Soviet states, grows another 21 percent. The global grain harvest has nearly tripled since 1961, while world population has doubled. As a result, the amount of grain produced per person grew from 285 kilograms in 1961 to a peak of 376 kilograms in 1986. In recent decades, annual per capita production globally has hovered around 350 kilograms, but it varies dramatically by region, standing at roughly 1,230 kilograms per year in the United States (most of it fed to livestock), 325 kilograms in China, and 90 kilograms in Zimbabwe. People consume 48 percent of the world’s grain directly, while 35 percent becomes livestock feed. A growing share (17 percent) is used to make ethanol and other fuels.

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