As environmentalists push for “green” energy, the coal industry continues to emphasize the fact that coal is cheaper than its greener alternatives.
But is coal really as cheap as we think it is?
Greenpeace has released a report that reveals the true cost that coal is having on the world at large.
Entitled The True Cost Of Coal: How people and the planet are paying the price for the world’s dirtiest fuel, the report shows that coal is costing the world around €360 billion per year.
Over the next ten years this would translate into €3.6 trillion - roughly $US4.6 trillion.
The Hidden Costs
In calculating the figure, Greenpeace looked at the external costs of coal, such as costs arising from mining accidents, acid rain, and more.
The report says:
Traditionally considered the cheapest fuel around, the market price for coal ignores its most significant impacts. These so-called “external costs” manifests themselves as damages such as respiratory diseases, mining accidents, acid rain, smog pollution, reduced agricultural yields and climate change.
Greenpeace explains that the the harm caused by mining and burning coal is not reflected in its price per tonne or its costs for a kWh of electricity, but the world at large is nevertheless paying for it.
Coal’s Impact On Climate Change
The report also explains that coal burning contributes more to climate change than any other fossil fuel, and that coal-fired power stations produce 11 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.
Greenpeace emphasizes that our decisions regarding coal is not something we should take lightly:
As the single largest source of CO2 emissions, the manner in which we deal with coal in the coming years will determine whether we can respond adequately to the climate crisis.
And, our decisions of today, will have an ongoing impact for years to come:
A coal plant built today will emit CO2 pollution for at least the next 40 years.
Dirty Coal vs Clean Coal?
And Greenpeace is not impressed by so called “clean coal”, where carbon from the burning coal is captured and stored underground.
Greenpeace says that, even if it were a feasible option, there isn’t enough time to deploy Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) plants.
The earliest possibility for deployment of CCS at a useful scale is not expected until at least 2030, while global greenhouse gas emissions must start falling after 2015 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change
Greenpeace believes that CCS is providing an unwelcome distraction in the discussion on reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
Those peddling technological fixes – such as carbon capture and storage which claims to make coal clean and safe for the climate – create a dangerous distraction as the world seeks truly sustainable solutions that will reduce emissions and protect our climate. It is only by quitting coal and increasing energy efficiency and production of renewable energy that we will prevent catastrophic climate change.
Coal Must Be Phased Out
The strong message in the report is that coal must be phased out, and proposed coal-fired power stations must not go ahead.
Instead, Greenpeace emphasizes that renewable energy and energy efficiency must be the way forward:
Given the availability of alternatives such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, which can meet our energy needs in a safe and climate-friendly way, there is no need to continue relying on coal. We must reduce our dependence on this dirty fuel and abandon plans to build new coal-fired power stations.
So, given the true cost of coal, the report makes the argument for renewable energy even more compelling.
Full Report [PDF document]