Van der Hoeven was announcing IEA's annual Medium Term Coal Market Report, which forecasts that coal will nearly catch oil by 2017, when global coal consumption will hit 4.32 billion tons of oil equivalent (btoe), compared to 4.4 billion tons for oil. Demand for coal will increase everywhere other than in the U.S., where natural gas is high on the rise, the report notes.
"The world will burn around 1.2 billion tons of coal per year by 2017 compared to today - the equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the United States combined," Van der Hoeven said.
That, in turn, "means CO2 emissions will keep growing substantially," she added, noting that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies "are not taking off as once expected."
Other key observations from the report:
China became the world's largest coal importer in 2011, surpassing longtime leader Japan
Indonesia overtook Australia as the world's leading coal exporter, although Australia should leapfrog back to the top as its coal industry recovers from floods
India will become the world's second largest coal consumer by 2017, surpassing the U.S.
As U.S. coal demand declines, the U.S. is exporting more coal to Europe, where unlike in the U.S., gas prices are high
The overall growth rate in coal is slowing down from its "breakneck pace of the last decade"
Paris-based IEA consists of 28 member countries from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It emerged from the 1973/74 oil crisis, and promotes reliable, clean energy. Last month it warned that the world's continued use of CO2-intense fossil fuels has put the planet on a catastrophic warming path.
Van der Hoeven issued a similar doomsday caution at an international energy ministers' summit last April in London.
Photos: Coal plant from ishmatt via Flickr. Maria van der Hoeven from IEA via Flickr.