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Coal facts

Coal is an organically derived material. It is formed from the remains of decayed plant material compacted into a solid through millions of years of chemical changes under pressure and heat. Its rich carbon content gives coal most of its energy content. When coal is burned in the presence of air or oxygen, heat energy is released.

This energy can then be converted to other forms of useful energy. Primary applications for coal are thermal (e.g. electricity generation) and metallurgical (e.g. coking or steelmaking coal).

Key facts

  • The main use of coal is electricity generation.
  • Coal is also a key ingredient in the manufacturing of steel and cement.
  • Canada's coal production in 2021 was 48 million tonnes.
  • Canada exported 32 million tonnes of coal and imported 6 million tonnes in 2021.
  • Canada is the world's fourth largest exporter of metallurgical coal, after Australia, the United States and Russia.
  • Alberta and British Columbia produced 83% of Canada's coal.
  • In 2018, the Government of Canada announced final regulations to phase-out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030.

Learn more about coal

Coal industry

In 2019, coal made up 27% of the world's energy supply. In Canada, many parts of the nation have abundant low-cost, domestic coal, while other regions have easy access to an international supply.

The Canadian coal industry produces coal for use in metallurgical applications (e.g. coking or steelmaking) and thermal applications (e.g. electricity generation).

More than half of the coal produced in Canada is metallurgical, and the rest is thermal. Some power-generating companies not only use coal for electricity generation but also own coal mines or are involved in coal production themselves. Other companies buy coal to generate electricity.

International context

Global coal production in 2021 is estimated at 7.7 billion tonnes, increasing by 292 million tonnes from 2020. The top five producing countries accounted for 80% of the world's coal production.

World coal production, 2012–2021 (p)

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This bar chart shows the world's annual coal production from 2012 to 2021. Production in 2012 was 7.8 billion tonnes. It then grew, peaking in 2013 at 8.1 billion tonnes, followed by some declines and another peak of 8.2 billion tonnes in 2019. Production in 2021 was 7.7 billion tonnes.

Find out how Canada’s coal ranks on an international scale:

World production
World coal production, 2021 (p)
Rank Region Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 3,725 48.7%
2 India 818 10.7%
3 Indonesia 569 7.4%
4 United States 524 6.8%
5 Australia 460 6.0%
14 Canada 50 0.7%
- Other countries 1,506 19.7%
- Total 7,653 100.0%
World exports
World exports, 2021 (p)
Rank Country/region Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Indonesia 435 33.0%
2 Australia 363 27.5%
3 Russia 215 16.3%
4 United States 77 5.8%
5 South Africa 63 4.8%
7 Canada 32 2.4%
- Other countries 133 10.1%
- Total 1,318 100.0%
World imports
World imports, 2021 (p)
Rank Country/region Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 332 24.4%
2 India 199 14.6%
3 Japan 174 12.8%
4 South Korea 126 9%
5 Taiwan 70 5.1%
- Other countries 462 33.9%
- Total 1,363 100.0%
World proven reserves
World proven reserves, 2021 (p)
Rank Country/region Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 United States 248,941 23.2%
2 Russia 162,166 15.1%
3 Australia 150,227 14.0%
4 China 143,197 13.3%
5 India 111,052 10.3%
16 Canada 6,582 0.6%
- Other countries 251,943 23.5%
- Total 1,074,108 100.0%


Canada's imports of coal have trended downward for over a decade, while exports have held mostly steady. Canada exports nearly two thirds of its production. The majority of Canada's coal exports go to Asia, which is still a significant consumer.

Canadian coal trade, 2005–2021

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From 2005 to 2013, coal exports increased from 28 million tonnes to almost 40 million tonnes before levelling to approximately 30 million tonnes between 2015 and 2017. Coal imports decreased from 21 million tonnes in 2005 to 6 million tonnes in 2021.

In 2021, Canada exported 32 million tonnes of coal around the world and imported just over 6 million tonnes of coal, mostly from the United States. Exports to the United States accounted for 3% of Canadian coal exports and represented 19% of total United States coal imports.

Canada's exports are primarily metallurgical coal (82% in 2021).

Canadian exports and imports of coal (2021)

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In 2021, Canadian coal exports were valued at $7.7 billion. The major destinations for those exports were China (46%), South Korea (15%), Japan (15%) and India (6%). Approximately 3% of Canada's coal exports are to the United States, representing 19% of U.S. coal imports. As for Canadian coal imports, 72% come from the United States. Over half of all imports are used for manufacturing steel, the rest is for electricity generation.


Coal is used for generating electricity, manufacturing steel and cement, and various industrial and residential applications. Canada produced 47.6 Mt of coal in 2021, of which 61% is metallurgical coal used for manufacturing steel and 39% is thermal coal used for generating electricity.

In Canada, 6% of electricity was generated with coal in 2020. Electricity generation consumed 18.4 Mt of coal in 2021, a 55% decrease from 41.1 Mt in 2011.

The Government of Canada is phasing out coal-fired electricity by 2030. However, coal will still be used for metallurgical processes.

Global coal demand by sector, 2020 (p)

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This circular chart shows the major global sources of demand for coal in percentages in 2020. The largest share of coal was used in electricity generation and heating (64%), followed by iron and steel industries (17%), cement (6%), and other sectors (13%).

Canadian production

Canadian production of coal has been trending downward over the past decade and was 47.6 million tonnes in 2021.

Canadian coal production, 2012–2021

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This bar chart shows Canada's annual mine production of coal from 2012 to 2021. Production was 67.3 million tonnes in 2012, then increased to 68.4 million tonnes in 2013. Since 2014, production has been trending downward. In 2021, production increased to 47.6 million tonnes after a large drop to 46.1 million tonnes in 2020 caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In contrast, 2021 production levels remained below pre-pandemic levels.

Coal production by province, 2021

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The production by province was British Columbia 62%, Alberta 21%, Saskatchewan 17%, and Nova Scotia 0.4%.

Electric power generation from coal by province, 2021

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Alberta and Saskatchewan had the largest proportions of coal consumed for electric power generation in Canada in 2021, with 44%, and 43%, respectively. They are followed by Nova Scotia (10%) and New Brunswick (3%).

Coal used for electricity generation

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Electricity generation consumed 18 Mt of coal in 2021, a 55% decrease from 41 Mt in 2011.


From 2012 to 2016, the price for exported Canadian metallurgical coal was on a downward trend until it rose sharply in early 2017, reaching a high of CAN$230 per tonne. Between 2017 and 2020, the price resumed its downward trend until early 2021. The price reached the highest peak of the last 10 years at CAN$457 per tonne at the end of 2021. The price for exported Canadian thermal coal experienced a similar trend.

Canadian exported coal prices, 2012–2021

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This graph represents the monthly prices of exported Canadian coal (CAD) from 2012 to 2021.

Find out more about minerals and metals facts

Notes and sources

Numbers may not add to totals due to rounding.

(p) preliminary

International context



Canadian production

  • Coal by province: Compiled by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) from provincial, territorial and company reports (2018–2021). Statistics Canada tables 25-10-0046-01 and 25-10-0017-01 (2012–2017).
  • Electric power generation from coal by province: compiled by NRCan from Statistics Canada Table 25-10-0017-01


Canadian exported coal prices: Statistics Canada International Merchandise Trade Database

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