BEIJING -- Those searching for answers to China's chronic smog should consider this: Coal consumption in the world's second-largest economy is nearly on par with the rest of the world combined.
That's according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which released data Tuesday showing Chinese coal usage growing 9% in 2011 to 325 million tons. That means Chinese coal demand accounts for 47% of global consumption.
The world's fastest-growing major economy relies on the cheap fossil fuel to supply 70% of its energy generation. But China is paying a massive environmental price for using so much coal, the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. It now contains seven of the 10 worst cities in the world for air pollution, and experts say the hazardous smog is costing the country billions of dollars in healthcare and lost productivity.
China is aiming to increase the amount of renewable energy it uses, but rising demand for electricity means coal consumption will remain robust.
The Energy Information Administration said China accounted for 87% of the 374-million-ton global increase in coal use in 2011. China also accounted for 82% of the 2.9 billion tons of global coal demand growth since 2000. Over that same period, Chinese electricity generation has doubled.