The Great Water Grab

How the Coal Industry is Deepening the Global Water Crisis

Publication - 22 March, 2016
Water is essential for all life on earth and plays a central role in human development: from sanitation and health, to food and energy production, to industrial activities and economic development.

However, human activities are depleting our planet's water resources at an alarming rate. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks report 2015 identified water crises as the greatest risk that the world faces over the next 10 years in terms of potential impact, with political, business and civil society leaders agreeing that "water security is one of the most tangible and fastest-growing social, political and economic challenges faced today."

Despite this, Greenpeace International has discovered that governments are failing to manage water sustainably, by continuing to allow the coal industry to tap into this precious resource without first conducting thorough evaluations of the consequences. The whole lifecycle of coal-generated electricity has enormous impacts on freshwater systems, from mining and washing to combustion and combustion waste management. A 500 MW coal-fired power plant, using once through cooling, can withdraw enough water to suck dry an Olympic-sized swimming pool roughly every three minutes. In many countries, the coal industry creates one of the largest demands on freshwater resources.

Plans for further major increases in coal-fired power plant capacity around the world (almost 1300 GW proposed additional coal-fired capacity as at the end of 2013) could plunge many regions already suffering severe water stress into crisis and serious drought.

There is also the increasing risk of serious conflicts over already depleted water resources between agricultural, industrial and domestic users. This huge demand on water resources coupled with the importance of all these major sectors, could severely impact societies. In some countries the water conflict could force policy makers to make very difficult choices regarding the balance of water availability for food production, power supply or water sources of major cities, as well as for maintaining environmental needs. 

This report for the first time evaluates and discloses the severe global impacts that our continuing reliance on coal-fired power is having on the world's fresh water resources.

The Great Water Grab: How the Coal Industry is Deepening the Global Water Crisis

Technical Report: Coal Water Methods & Results

Red-list: Coal plant clusters in over-withdrawal areas

Examples of how much water coal plants using different cooling technologies require (xls)