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Percentage of Fossil Fuels Used in the World

Jane Marsh - June 4, 2021

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For thousands of years, people relied on basic forms of energy. They use the sun as warmth and heat, fire to cook their food and even human and animal power to plant crops and use as transportation. Although people still use these energy sources today, they aren’t the primary energy source. 

With the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid to late 19th century, those same primary energy forms seemed to disappear. Fossil fuels, like coal, oil and natural gas, took the main stage in energy sources. The convenience and massive amount of energy they provided were enough to convert Americans and Europeans alike to fossil fuels and abandon the sun and wind, at least for a time. 

Now, fossil fuels play a significant role in energy production throughout the globe, and the percentage of fossil fuels used in the world continues to rise.

What Are Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels include oil, coal and natural gas. These products derive from the depths of the earth that formed from plants and animals from millions of years ago. Those creatures died, and layers of rock and other matter covered them. With the combination of organic matter, temperature and pressure, fossil fuels form. 

Industries across the globe now drill or mine those fossil fuels. They use them for energy to produce electricity and even process them to use them as fuel for transportation or heating. In a way, the energy in fossil fuels still comes from the sun. It gave power to plants and animals to live and grow. That energy is now stored as fossil fuels. 

Since fossil fuels come from decomposed plant and animal matter, there’s only so much of it available. Once it’s all drilled out of the ground, the fossil fuel industry will no longer be able to get it, meaning it’s nonrenewable. We would have to wait possibly hundreds of thousands more years to have an abundance of fossil fuels again. 

Percentage of Fossil Fuels Used in the World

Almost every country in the world uses fossil fuels. Out of every type of energy available, fossil fuels account for over 80% of the energy sources in the world as of 2019. In the Statistical Review of World Energy by BP, of the primary energy sources, oil accounted for 33.1%, gas for 24.2% and coal for 27%, adding up to 84.3% of the world’s energy consumption is from fossil fuels. 

At their peak in 1966, fossil fuels accounted for about 94% of the world’s energy consumption. There has been quite a decline in the past 50 years, and the hope is that number will continue to decrease. Still, about 15 billion metric tons of fossil fuels are burned every year throughout the world. 

The world’s top three consumers of fossil fuels are China, the United States and India. As the world’s population increases, the energy demand will be even higher, meaning that if the world continues to make fossil fuels its primary energy source, the resource will deplete at an even faster rate than it is now. 

Because of such a high percentage of fossil fuel usage worldwide, it will be challenging for the renewables industry to take the lead in energy consumption. However, it is a goal worth reaching since fossil fuels are nonrenewable. Eventually, fossil fuels will deplete, and the world will have to rely upon renewable sources like solar, water and wind. 

The Problem With Fossil Fuels

Although fossil fuels are the most popular energy source worldwide, there’s a problem — fossil fuels are polluting the environment. Carbon dioxide leads to global greenhouse gas emissions at 65% of total gases, and the main sources of that pollution are from fossil fuels and industrial processes. 

Fossil fuels have contributed significantly to climate change. Global temperatures continue to rise, causing significant problems worldwide, like wildfires, droughts, severe weather and even health concerns. Additionally, to harvest the fossil fuels, industries have to dig wells and holes deep into the ground, contributing to land degradation and water pollution as erosion carries particles into our precious freshwater sources. 

A Switch to Renewable Energy

Fortunately, renewable energy can solve the world’s fossil fuel addiction. Although it will take time, it is possible. Countries across the globe are recognizing that renewable energy, like solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower, can meet the world’s energy needs. 

The onset of COVID-19 opened many eyes. When people could no longer travel or use as much energy as they were, pollution cleared, and cities became cleaner. Still, it will be hard to quit fossil fuels. So many valuable economic industries rely on fossil fuels, and without a stable economy, the switch to renewable energy probably cannot happen, at least for many years. 

About the author

Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.