The Coal Issue

Abandoning coal is turning into one of the most talked about topics in the global climate community. Former apologists of the coal energy get onto the low-carbon path.  What complaints ecologists have against the fossil fuel and why do they call for the life without coal?

The world community will not be able to keep the warming process within the necessary 1.5-2 degree rise without abandoning coal, experts of the Climate Analytics came to this conclusion in their report.  In order to provide for the promised input into the global climatic actions, 28 countries of the European Union must get rid of the carbon-intensive fuel by the end of the next decade.  In the world countries do not reduce their emissions in the nearest future and do not abandon coal, the outcomes of climate changes will grow out of control.


Climatologists have a lot of complaints against coal.  In their opinion, coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel.  Experts believe that its large-scale combustion is one of the major causes of the global warming.  CO2 emissions of coal power stations (TPPs) per unit of generated electric energy are the highest as compared to other types of fossil fuel.   


“Coal-based power production causes the major damage to climate: present coal generation capacities produce twice as much CO2 as gas-based facilities, authors of the Coal Atlas wrote.  Emissions of the firedamp, which had emerged in the process of coal formation and are mostly composed of methane, increase the carbon footprint of the coal industry.  Coal is routinely transported over long distances which requires energy consumption and additionally contributes to climate change.  Burning coal at power plants, furnaces, or incinerators produces fractions of coal which also contribute to the greenhouse effect.”  Emissions of fossil fuel burning power stations contain about 70 different harmful substances which are carcinogens or neurotoxins.  


In only the U.S., atmosphere pollution with coal TPPs emissions cause premature mortality of more than 30 thousand people every year.  Annually, about one million people die early in China in the result of atmosphere pollution (mostly caused by active coal combustion). 


Open coal mining causes colossal damage to nature.  Such production technique leads to practically irreparable destructions of the ecosystem.  Numerous toxic wastes emerging during the production process cause another hazard to the nature: they contaminate water sources, soils, and the atmosphere.    


Development of opencast coal mines contradicts with the interests of local residents. Resistance to coal production and combustion keeps growing all over the world.  International environmental organizations have been protesting against exploitation of the nature and coal production for more than 30 years. 


Coal is not cheapCoal advocates often claim that it is a source of cheap energy.  Coal production and combustion cause numerous external losses which are not taken into consideration at cost accounting. Coal subsidies eat up the taxpayers’ money.  Certain countries keep supporting the coal projects with taxpayers’ money.


In the recent years, the issue of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) is broadly discussed in political and economic circles. The technology of the process consists of power stations’ carbon emissions capture and burial in geological formations below the surface.  “The method has one serious drawback,” authors of the Coal Atlas wrote.  “It requires additional energy consumption and the performance factor brings this technology back to the level of the 1980s. A station should combust by one third more of coal to produce the same amount of power.  And where shall it keep the captured carbon dioxide? This technology creates more problems than it solves.”  


These and many other environmental, economic, and social factors force states and regions to abandon coal.  People in the regions of Russia know only too well about the coal industry growth costs.  In the end of the last year, the Posprirodnadzor Directorate in the Kemerovo Region estimated the damages caused by the Kuzbassrazrezugol Company to the land resources at 6.7 billion rubles and to the water resources at 200 million rubles. Nevertheless, Russia remains to be one of the countries bidding on the increase of coal production. 


Taking into consideration the necessity of cardinal transformations in the energy production, experts’ conclusions on the “hopelessness of the coal industry” as the way of solving energy problems, and tendencies of the leading world markets, representatives of public environmental organizations claim that enhancement of coal power production cannot be an option for the sustainable development.  


Environmentalists believe that coal companies should assume responsibility for contamination of the environment and full-scale compensation of the damages.  Coal pricing estimation should include:

  • Full chain of production, transportation, reloading, and combustion of coal;
  • Accident prevention and liquidation of outcomes;
  • Rehabilitation of ecosystems;
  • Honest and adequate compensations to local population for the loss of lands (loss of land, residences, livelihood, the possibility to lead traditional way of life, loss of cultural values, environmental degradation, etc.).


When designing coal projects, it is important to take into account environmental and social interests of the people living in the area of coal sites, rights of indigenous small nations for preservation of healthy and ecologically clean environment, their traditional way of living, cultural wholeness, management their own lands, and fair compensation for their exploitation.


Environmentalists believe that authority bodies of all levels must reconsider actual norms and regulations for public hearing on the projects of new coal enterprises and terminals with obligatory consideration of scholars’ conclusions, public’s complaints and comments including the possibility of the “zero solution”, i.e., abandonment of project implementation.  It is necessary to look for possibilities for alternative economic development.  


In the opinion of representatives of public environmental organizations, the time has come when support to fossil fuels which causes further greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere should be re-oriented to the support of energy efficiency and renewable power production.