Coal Industry

According to the International Energy Agency, coal continues to be the biggest driver of climate change, responsible for 43% of the world’s CO2 emissions from fuels – with CO2 emissions from coal having grown by 57% since 1990. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for one-third of the United State’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissionsCoal also fills much of the growing energy demand of developing countries (such as China and India) where energy-intensive industrial production is growing rapidly and large coal reserves exist with limited reserves of other energy sources. Despite a growing renewables industry worldwide, in 2012 many countries continue to increase their dependence on coal. In Germany, emissions from coal rose 4.2% on the previous year, while Japan’s coal emissions grew 5.6%. In the EU, while overall emissions decreased, emissions from coal continued to grow 3% and in India coal saw a massive growth of 10.2%. Worldwide NASA scientist James Hansen has said that coal contributes the largest percentage of anthropogenic carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In North America, coal is the leading source of dangerous mercury emissions. Beyond Mercury, burning coal produces large quantities of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Coal power has a huge impact on public health, with experts warning that power stations in Europe could be causing 18,200 premature deaths and heath problems valued at up to €43 billion every year. In a report released last year, the Health and Environment Alliance warned that air pollution from burning coal is causing lung and heart diseases that afflict communities across the continent. The emissions from coal power plants in Poland, Romania and Germany alone are responsible for more than half of Europe’s coal related health impacts.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) say that by 2017 dirty coal will almost overtake oil as the world’s primary energy source. It also warns that two-thirds of known fossil-fuels must remain in the ground for the world to remain below the danger threshold of 2°C of global warming. This warning was further emphasised last year by UK-based Carbon Tracker, who showed that with government action to limit global warming, vast amounts of fossil fuels would be left “unburnable”, and warning of the huge financial risk of continuing to invest in such fuels. In the wake of such a warning there has been a growing movement of people around the world calling on financial institutions and other organisations to move their investments away from risky coal. Large public financial institutions are already heeding this warning, with the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank all announcing a move away from dirty coal.

As investors abandon coal, leaving stranded assets in their wake, the rapid uptake of renewables will increasingly eat the lunch of remaining fossil fuel companies. Energy efficiency and green homes that are cheaper to run and build will further slow consumption, undermining profits of dirty incumbents, and increasing the political clout of the cleaner solutions sector. These grandfather utilities – unwilling or unable to adapt – will be increasingly threatened by the speed and spread of clean technology, and sooner rather than later given a growing stable of commentators and experts believe that the energy transition tipping point is here, and that renewables are now unstoppableNew wind is already cheaper than new coal in Australia and the situation is mirrored in many other places globally.

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  • “I urge every coal company to honestly assess the financial risks of business as usual; anticipate increasing regulation, growing finance restrictions and diminishing public acceptance; and leverage technology to reduce emissions across the entire coal value chain.” – UN climate chief Christiana Figueres in speech to World Coal Summit, November 2013
  • “[The World Bank] will cease providing financial support for greenfield coal power generation projects, except in rare circumstances where there are no feasible alternatives available to meet basic energy needs and other sources of financing are absent.” – The World Bank’s new coal strategy, July 2013
  • “For patients with asthma, allergies and other respiratory diseases, air pollution can have severe consequences, imposing limitations on their daily lives, restricting their activities outdoors and even resulting in days off from work. Policymakers should use every opportunity to create an environment that is free from the burden of air pollution, with looking at the health implications of coal consumption being one of them.” – Roberta Savli, EU Policy Officer, European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations, March 2013
  • “If you ask me, it’d be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it.” – Amory Lovins, environmentalist, Mother Earth News, Nov.-Dec. 1977

  • “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.” – Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich, and Dr. John Holdren, Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment, 1970, p. 323

  • “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.” – Dr. James Hansen, The Observer, Feb. 15, 2009

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