Coal use rises dramatically despite impacts on climate and health.

AuthorRussell, James

World coal consumption in 2006 reached a record 3,090 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe), an increase of 4.5 percent over 2005, and accounted for 25 percent of world primary energy supply and 32 percent of fossil fuel energy. Due to its high carbon content, however, coal accounted for about 40 percent of global carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) emissions from fossil fuels.

China led world coal use with 39 percent of the total, followed by the United States (18 percent), the European Union (10 percent), and India (8 percent). China's rising coal consumption accounted for more than 70 percent of the increase in global consumption in 2006. China seems to have brought about as much coal power capacity on line each week as the United States and India together did over the entire year, an unprecedented 90 gigawatts.

The extraction and combustion of coal have severe health and environmental impacts. In the United States, 47 workers were killed in coal mine accidents in 2006, while China's State Work Safety Supervision Administration reported a staggering 4,746 deaths. The pollution emitted by coal-burning power plants and factories affects the health of millions of people. A recent World Bank study identified coal combustion as China's largest source of outdoor air pollution, to which it attributed 350,000-400,000 premature deaths a year.

Forecasts of world coal consumption in 2050 range from 2,900 Mtoe (International Energy Agency), which assumes adoption of a stringent, worldwide carbon policy, to 10,700 Mtoe in a business-as-usual scenario (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Meeting any climate stabilization target will require control of coal emissions, and numerous studies identify carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a way to reconcile coal's importance as an energy resource with its role as a major contributor of C[O.sub.2] emissions.

The technical feasibility of CCS has largely been proven by demonstration projects, though...

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