Paris - Coal is set to surpass oil as the world's top fuel within a decade, driven by growth in emerging market giants China and India, according to a report published on Tuesday.
Economic growth is expected to push up the share of coal, which produces the most climate-changing gasses, in the global energy mix, "and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade," said Maria van der Hoeven, head of the International Energy Agency, in a statement.
The latest IEA projections see coal consumption nearly catching oil consumption in four years time, rising to 4.32 billion tonnes of oil equivalent in 2017 against 4.4 billion tonnes for oil.
That has consequences for climate change as coal produces far more carbon emissions responsible for global warming than other fuels.
The IEA, the energy advisory arm of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development of 34 industrialised nations, sees non-OECD developing countries as driving the increase in coal consumption due to population growth and rising electricity consumption as their economies grow and modernise.
In its baseline scenario, the IEA sees rapid increases in power generation making India the second-largest coal consumer in 2017, displacing the United States where the shale gas boom makes coal uncompetitive.
Chinese coal consumption is forecast to account for more than half of global demand by 2014, with the country also displacing the United States as the biggest coal polluter on a per-capita basis.
The IEA sees China's coal demand increasing by an average of 3.7% per year to 3,190 million tonnes of coal equivalent in 2017.
Even in the case of a slowdown in the breakneck growth in the Chinese economy the IEA sees the country's use of coal growing by 2% per year, as well as the overall coal market growing.
The agency said that given its position developments in the Chinese market would largely determine the course of the global coal market, saying: "China is coal. Coal is China."