Global demand for coal is still rising: EU member states have been reluctant to take action against coal projects and continue to subsidize coal related business with almost 10 billion euros per year. The coal boom has negative consequences for humans and nature that outweigh its economic benefits. Coal does not just kill the climate. In coal mines, terrible working conditions are rife. Accidents are commonplace. The environmental and health costs linked to the use of coal to generate electricity are enormous. Turning away from fossil (and nuclear) fuels towards renewable energy can offer huge economic and social opportunities. It would create jobs and cut costs. A shortage of power can best be overcome by the decentralized generation of energy from renewable sources.
A multilateral, binding climate agreement must give a clear signal to phase out fossil fuels. Companies that have made huge profits from fossil fuels should be made legally and financially responsible for the damage they have caused, and continue to cause. To speed the transition, a reasonable price must be set for CO2 emissions.
Our Coal Atlas contains the latest facts and figures on the use of coal and its environmental and social consequences. With more than 60 detailed graphics, the atlas illustrates the coal industry’s impact on nature, health, labour, human rights and politics.
We hope that this publication will spur the international campaign to phase out the use of coal. We are particularly pleased with the efforts of many of our offices abroad to produce editions of this atlas in local languages. We hope you will find this stimulating reading.
Barbara Unmüßig and Ralf Fücks
Board, Heinrich Böll Foundation
- Read the Coal Atlas online.
Table of contents
- 12 BRIEF LESSONS ABOUT COAL AND THE WORLD
- GEOLOGY AND GEOGRAPHY - SUBTERRANEAN FORESTS
Coal is formed from vegetation at high temperatures and pressures, cut off from the air. The older the coal, the more carbon and energy it contains. Deposits are located in all continents.
- HISTORY - THE BEDROCK OF INDUSTRY
Coal is the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution and the transformation of economies and societies over the last two centuries. Its benefits have been huge – while the damage it has wrought was ignored for too long. A switch to cleaner fuels now heralds the end of the coal era.
- GREENHOUSE GASES - SPOILING THE CLIMATE
Digging up coal and using it to generate electricity churns out emissions that intensify the greenhouse effect. Coal is one of the biggest sources of climate change.
- NATURE - A CONTAMINATED FUTURE
Open-cast mining destroys the landscape of both the pit and the surrounding area. Efforts to restore these areas often fail and the surface above the underground mines sinks.
- HEALTH - FINE DUST, FAT PRICE
Smoke and fumes from coal-fired power plants make us ill. They are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide each year. Atmospheric and environmental pollution from coal costs billions in health expenses.
- LABOUR - DIRTY JOBS IN A DIRTY INDUSTRY
Although coal production is still on the rise, the sector is employing fewer people. Structural change has spread to all continents. Nevertheless, mining underground remains one of the most dangerous occupations worldwide.
- HUMAN RIGHTS - PUSHED DOWN AND DRIVEN OUT
When the coal firms arrive, local people can expect forced removal and repression. Voluntary standards are of little help.
- PROTESTS - A BROAD ALLIANCE WITH STAYING POWER
Around the world, people are fighting back against the coal industry. They face repression, harassment and violence – but sometimes they are successful.
- SUBSIDIES - HIDDEN PAYMENTS, UNPAID BILLS
The coal industry uses taxpayers’ money to keep its prices low – and it does not compensate for the costs of climate change or disease. A brief look at the scale of the problem.
- FINANCE - BIG PLAYERS BEHIND THE SCENES
Digging mines, building power plants and providing infrastructure cost billions. Many countries cannot afford the investments; credit agencies, multilateral and private banks are glad to step in.
- PROFITABILITY - DEFLATING THE CARBON BUBBLE
Successful climate policies mean that coal is becoming a less valuable resource. This affects the companies that dig it up.
- CHINA - BLACK FUEL, IN THE RED
Change is under way for the world’s biggest coal consumer; consumption in 2014 was down. Renewables are up. Coal-fired power plants are working at less than full capacity.
- INDIA - RICH IN COAL BUT POOR IN ENERGY
Coal is an important part of India’s energy mix, and consumption is rising quickly as the economy expands. Local production is not enough: strong demand is attracting imports from Australia and elsewhere.
- UNITED STATES - PAST ITS PRIME
The US coal industry is losing market share to gas and renewables. The nation’s dirtiest fuel is giving way to cleaner alternatives.
- RUSSIA - THE LAND WITHOUT DOUBT OR DEBATE
Coal is one of the dirtiest industries in Russia. Apart from hydropower, renewable energy is practically non-existent. Civil society groups that might push for more sustainable sources of power are few and far between.
- GERMANY - A TURNAROUND YET TO TURN
Germany is phasing out nuclear power and has come to rely more on coal for its electricity. Despite a steep rise in renewable energy, the use of coal is endangering Germany’s ambitious target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
- LOBBYING - PAID TO PREVENT PROGRESS
Wherever climate and energy negotiations take place, the coal industry wants to have their say. They often succeed.
- EMISSIONS TRADING - STRONG PLAYERS, FEEBLE INSTRUMENTS
Trading in pollution permits has blossomed into a big business. The system has produced little benefit for the climate. Even so, the alternatives are barely discussed.
- CARBON CAPTURE AND STORAGE - PROBLEMS AT DEPTH
With the promise of “clean coal”, the industry intends to store carbon dioxide underground. However, this method of dealing with the climate crisis fails for both technical and economic reasons.
- THE ENERGY TRANSITION - TURNING FROM BURNING – POWERING UP RENEWABLES
The share of renewable energy in the global power mix is growing fast. Nations and corporations are switching over. However, a complete shift away from fossil energy is still not in sight.
- EU ENERGY POLICY - ON TRACK, BUT AIMING TOO LOW
The European Union’s climate policy aims for lower emissions, lower consumption and an increase in renewable energy. The targets are achievable – but they ought tobe more ambitious.
- AUTHORS AND SOURCES FOR DATA AND GRAPHICS