Greenpeace report reveals global coal costs of €360 billion in 2007 - minimum

Press release - 27 November, 2008
Greenpeace today released an analysis showing that the global cost of coal was at least €360 billion last year alone. The report, "The True Cost of Coal", released with the independent Dutch Institute CE Delft, arrived at this figure by looking at very modest CO2 damage costs, health costs and mining accidents.

The report was released as Industry Ministers from at least 20 big emitting countries met in Warsaw with the world's climate-polluting industries (1).

"The relentless expansion of the coal industry is the single greatest threat to averting dangerous climate change. Coal is the most climate-polluting fossil fuel, responsible for one third of all CO2 emissions, and is projected to increase to 60% of emissions by 2030," Joris Thijssen, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace International, told a press conference. "Clearly, quitting coal will benefit not only the climate, but also reduce the other impacts which everybody else has to pay for."

Earlier in the day Greenpeace activists dumped lignite, dirty brown coal that makes up a large portion of Poland's mining output, outside of the Warsaw Sheraton, sending a message to the meeting and demanding that it fully support deep cuts in emissions, not seek to protect the coal industry.

In calculating the figure, CE Delft focused on the external costs of coal in 2007 for damages attributable to climate change, human health impacts from air pollution and fatalities due to major mining accidents - factors for which reasonably reliable global data is currently available.

"When taking into account about 90% of the global emissions and looking at these damages, we get a conservative but robust cost figure of €360 billion annually," said Agnieszka Markowska, damages expert from CE Delft. "With the projected rising damages due to the impacts of climate change, this total number is likely to increase sharply if climate change is not stopped."

Examples of the projected impacts of climate change include the billions of people who will face water shortage and the hundreds of millions who will be threatened by food insecurity and more extreme weather events.

The impacts of coal are not only related to climate change. Coal also pollutes water resources, dirties the air and causes black lung disease. The report contains 'on the ground' stories from 12 countries that describe, for example, how human rights are violated in Colombia while mining coal, how mountain tops are blown apart in the United States and how coal use adds dramatically to air pollution in China. 

Greenpeace Poland campaign director Maciej Muskat said that Greenpeace strongly suspected the Polish Government had organised the meeting for the wrong reasons.

"The Polish people are already paying a high price for the cost of coal, through health impacts and the loss of lakes and ecosystems.  Instead of concentrating on trying to shore up opposition against action on climate at both the Poznan meeting and the EU climate-energy package (2), the Polish government should implement its own renewable energy target and tap into the enormous potential of energy efficiency (3)," he said.

The Warsaw meeting will probably talk about 'clean coal' technology that has the potential to sharply reduce CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. However, the Greenpeace report 'False Hope' shows that so-called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a dangerous distraction. The technology is unproven, contains inherent risks and comes with an enormous price tag. Global greenhouse gas emissions need to start declining in the next seven years and CCS is in no position to play a role in making this happen.

In Poznan, Greenpeace wants to see governments agree a "climate vision" that will address what the science requires: global emissions peaking by 2015. Developed countries must agree targets at the upper end of 25-40%, as identified by the IPCC,  along with a draft negotiating text on the table and a detailed workplan to get this completed by Copenhagen in December 2009.

Other contacts: Greg McNevin, Greenpeace International media officer:
+48 696 719 392

Ewa Jakubowska, Greenpeace Poland media officer:
+48 513 172 538

Notes: (1) Warsaw meeting document

(2) The EU is days away from sealing a deal on its own response to climate change, with a series of laws known as the 'climate package.' Europe's position will have a massive bearing on global talks to strengthen the Kyoto Protocol, culminating in Copenhagen at the end of next year.
European leaders meeting in Brussels on 11 December must also boost renewable energies, reduce our reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, and resist strong pressure from certain governments and energy-intensive industries to dodge their responsibilities.

(3) A future without coal is possible: the world already has enough accessible renewable energy to meet current energy demands six times over. Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution blueprint shows how renewable energy, combined with greater energy efficiency, can cut global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by 50% and deliver half the world's energy needs by 2050.