Coal is one of the most polluting ways to generate electricity, and regions like Europe have been trying hard in recent years to phase it out. But simultaneous industrialization in other parts of the world has counterbalanced the efforts. China’s coal use more than doubled between 2002 and 2012, and it is by far the largest consumer in the world:
Looking at total use, however, doesn’t take into account population size, nor how energy-hungry a country’s economy might be. South Africa is in fact the country most reliant on coal, as a percentage of its electricity. Poland is second, and China only third on the list.
China, indeed, has been making a big effort to diversify its energy supply, building renewables infrastructure at a faster rate than many European countries. Australia has pushed ahead with widely criticized new coal mining operations in the meantime.
In sharp contrast, New Zealand this month announced that it would close the last of its coal-fired power stations by 2018, becoming a coal-free nation. Given New Zealand’s mixture of aspiration and lucky geography, renewables such as wind and geothermal will contribute to the chance. Meanwhile, its use of coal is small compared to the biggest burners, but not insignificant: in 2013 New Zealand consumed almost 3 million metric tonnes of coal, according to the US Energy Information Administration.