The True Cost of Coal

Background - November 27, 2008
Coal is dirty. No amount of washing, gasifying, scrubbing, or capturing and burying will change that. Our True Cost of Coal report documents how people and the planet are paying the real price for coal.

From India to you. How electricity is made.

Produced in conjunction with the independent Dutch Institute CE Delft, the report puts a price tag on some of the damages caused by producing and burning coal, including climate change, health impacts from air pollution and loss of life from mining accidents.  In 2007 these damages cost the world at least 360 billion euros.  

Download the True Cost of Coal report

Agnieszka Markowska, damages expert from CE Delft said,"With the projected rise in damages due to the impacts of climate change, this total number is likely to increase sharply if climate change is not stopped."    

Coal is the single greatest threat to our climate

Coal contributes more to climate change than any other fossil fuel.  Across the planet, 11 billion tonnes of CO2 come from coal-fired power generation every year. In 2005, this made up around 41 percent of all CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. If current plans to build new coal-fired power plants, across the world, go ahead - then coal will be responsible for 60 percent of CO2 emissions by 2030. Those pedalling technological fixes - such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) create a dangerous distraction.  It is only by quitting coal and increasing energy efficiency and production of renewable energy that we will prevent catastrophic climate change.   

The true cost to the world is too high to pay

Not every impact caused by coal can be assigned a dollar value.  It is for this reason that the "True Cost of Coal" includes 12 stories from around the globe. These are the stories of those directly affected by coal and show its effects at each stage of its lifecycle: from mining to burning, and coal's dirty legacy.

In Columbia, indigenous communities are threatened and forced off their lands to make way for coal mines; thousands in Jharia, India suffer from horrendous living conditions because of uncontrollable coal fires; in Russia, unsafe mining conditions have meant injury and death for scores of workers  

In places like Indonesia, China and Thailand, air pollution from coal combustion is destroying livelihoods, damaging ancient relics, reducing crop yields and killing people. The legacy of mining ensures that land in South Africa will continue to be poisoned by acid mine drainage long after mines are closed while in the Kuyavia-Pomerania region of Poland, mining activities have caused the water level of Lake Ostrowskie to drop dramatically. In the United States coal has meant blowing up mountains, burying streams and contaminating nearby communities. In Germany, reclaiming opencast mines has created dead lakes with water as acid as vinegar.   

Leaving coal behind

However, in response to the unmitigated destruction and harm caused by coal, communities are rising up.  In Australia, winemakers, horsebreeders, local residents and miners are saying no to mine expansion and yes to a just transition to renewable energy.  In the Philippines, a diverse group has united to oppose a new coal-fired power station, calling instead for clean energy development.  Stories such as these inspire, provide hope and point the direction towards a better future - one not marred by dirty coal but fuelled by energy sources that are safe, sustainable and will protect our climate.

Tackling climate change means quitting coal and embracing a clean energy future.  Our own Energy [R]evolution report provides shows how the world can cut emissions 50% by 2050 and meet energy needs with a combination of with energy efficiency and renewable energy.  

Coal may have been essential in powering the Industrial Revolution, butnow its time has passed.  We must now bring about a revolution ofanother sort - one powered by clean, sustainable energy solutions thatwill protect our climate, health and environment now and forgenerations to come.

Download the True Cost of Coal

Download the True Cost of Coal report