Fossil fuels

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After World War II, the world economy recovered on the consumption of more energy. Until now, fossil fuels are the main sources of energy. They contribute 86% of total amount of energy consumed in 2004.

Availability of fossil fuels is difficult to evaluate accurately. However, it is estimated that the reserves of coal are the largest. They are sufficient until 2170 at 2004 production rates. As regards oil and natural gas, their availability is much more limited. They are estimated to last only till 2041 and 2071, respectively (Table 3).

North and Central America has enough coal to cover 290 years of production. Asia Pacific has only 101 years of coal reserves albeit it has the largest share of the total coal reserve. As one of the fastest growing economies and the largest population, production of coal in the Asia Pacific has tripled during the period 1981-2004. In 2004, it produced more than half of the coal produced worldwide.

The consumption of coal shows a mixed picture. Since 1965, the consumption in North America is almost constant. Meanwhile, the consumption in the Asia Pacific increased remarkably. The region became the world's largest user,

Table 3 World reserve of basic fossil fuels

Total world



Annual consumption





per capita 2004 (toe)














161 577



accounting for more than 50% of the world coal consumption. In 1965, this share was still less than 20%. The consumption rate in Europe and Eurasia reduced significantly, from 851 Mtoe in 1965 down to 537 Mtoe in 2004 (Figure 3).

However, in industrialized countries both energy production and consumption are higher than in developing countries. Their local energy consumption is generally higher than the local production, while the production of energy in developing countries is higher than their consumption. This points to the energy flows from developing countries to OECD countries (Figure 4).

Incineration of fossil fuels causes most of the climatic problems today, notably the emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, the worldwide average per capita emissions of CO2 is 3.85 tyr-1. Meanwhile, the world average environmental space for CO2 is 1.7 t - the level of 1990 which IPCC suggested to prevent global warming and dramatic climate changes.

This means, to achieve a sustainable development, much effort will be needed to reduce the consumption of fossil fuel, especially in developed countries (Table 4).

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