Fossil Fuels Are Not Going Away

 Coal use in action

The challenges posed by climate change are compounded by one basic fact. The already enormous use of fossil fuels worldwide is not shrinking, but growing.  The rate of growth will be huge.  Between 2007 and 2035, the EIA projects that the amount of fossil fuels consumed will increase about 50%.



US and China lead the pack for CO₂ emissions.  In recent years, China has built about one new coal plant a week.  In the last few years alone, China has built enough new coal plants to rival the size of the entire US coal fleet.  By 2015, 900 GW of coal power plants will be in operation in China-- three times the size of US fleet.



The United States is the second largest source of carbon dioxide in the world.  Recent technology improvements have made new reserves of natural gas from shale formations economically recoverable.  But even if all the coal in the US were replaced with natural gas, emissions would fall only by 50%-- not enough to meet mid-century targets of zero carbon emissions.



It is important to note that these fossil projections occur alongside large increases in renewable energy and nuclear power.  EIA estimates that in 2035:


  • Nuclear power in 2035 produces 74% more energy in than it does today.


  • Renewable energy, including hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal, grows by a factor of 2.1 over today’s levels. 


The implications are sobering.  Even with massive increases in nuclear power and renewables, growth of fossil fuel will be staggering. The reality is that fossil fuels are not going away. Left unchecked, their CO₂emissions will make avoiding the worst impacts of climate change impossible.


[1] EIA,


CATF is working to:

  • Advance low-carbon technologies through global business partnerships and policy
  • Promote technology innovation that reduces CCS costs
  • Develop incentives and mandates to promote CCS
  • Support projects that lower the carbon emissions of power plants