Johannesburg, 22 March 2016 – The world’s rapidly dwindling freshwater resources could be further depleted if plans for hundreds of new coal power plants worldwide go ahead, threatening severe drought and competition, according to a new Greenpeace International report.

Smoke rises from smouldering fires on recently cleared peatland in the PT Rokan Adiraya Plantation oil palm plantation near Sontang village in Rokan Hulu, Riau, Sumatra.

The report is the first global plant-by-plant study of the coal industry’s current and future water demand. The research also identifies the regions that are already in water deficit, where existing and proposed coal plants would speed up the depletion of water resources.

“If all the proposed coal plants would be built the water consumed by coal power plants around the world would almost double. We now know that coal not only pollutes our skies and fuels climate change, it also deprives us of one of our most precious resources: water,” said Harri Lammi, a Greenpeace senior global campaigner on coal.

Globally, 8,359 existing coal power plant units already consume enough water to meet the basic water needs of 1 billion people. A quarter of the proposed new coal plants are planned in regions already running a freshwater deficit, where water is used faster than it is naturally replenishing, which Greenpeace calls red-list areas.

The top countries with proposed additional coal plant capacity in red-list areas are China (237 GW), India (52 GW) and Turkey (7 GW).  Almost half of the proposed Chinese coal fleet is in red-list areas. In India and Turkey this figure is 13%.

Coal is one of the most water-intensive methods of generating electricity. According to the International Energy Agency, coal could account for 50% of the growth in global water consumption for power generation over the next 20 years. Greenpeace research shows that if the proposed coal plants come online, their consumption of water will increase by 90%. Given the deepening water crisis in the major coal power bases, it is unbelievable that plans for hundreds of new coal plants are even being considered.

“In the midst of one of the worst droughts in a generation, it is clear that coal expansion in South Africa will have significant impacts on the country’s already stressed water resources, particularly in the Waterberg and Mpumalanga. It is critical that the South African government recognises that replacing coal with renewable energy will not only help them deliver affordable electricity, but also deliver huge water savings. It’s more urgent than ever that we move towards a 100% renewable future,” said Penny-Jane Cooke, Greenpeace Africa climate and energy campaigner.

Greenpeace proposes three key policy steps, which, taken together, can turn around the coal industry’s water use:

·        An immediate moratorium on coal expansion in regions with high water stress, and a transition from thirsty coal to energy that uses little or no water, like solar PV and wind.

·        Replacing the planned coal plants in the red-list areas with renewable energy, such as solar PV and wind power, would avoid consumption of 1.8 billion cubic metres of water per year in China, and 1.2 billion cubic meters per year in India.

·        Closing plants that have been operating for 40 years, and replacing them with renewable energy. The US could save a staggering 9 billion cubic meters of water by shutting down its old coal power plants.

Notes to Editors:

[1] The Great Water Grab: How the coal industry is deepening the global water crisis’ can be downloaded here

[2] PHOTOS: a full set of images from India, China and South Africa is here.

Media contacts: 

Harri Lammi, Senior Global Campaigner (coal), Greenpeace East Asia, [email protected],   +852-98031257 (based in Hong Kong)

Martin Baker, Coal and Water Project Communications Manager, Greenpeace International, [email protected]  +62-8131 5829513 (based in Jakarta)

Angela Karnein, Media officer, Greenpeace Africa, angela.karnein@greenpeace .org, +27 (0)72 560 8700

Greenpeace International Press Desk, [email protected], phone: +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)