Impact on the Environment
One of the key messages from the Stern Review on the economics of climate change was -
"An overwhelming body of scientific evidence now clearly indicates that climate change is a serious and urgent issue. The Earth’s climate is rapidly changing, mainly as a result of increases in greenhouse gases caused by human activities."
Coal is a globally abundant and a relatively cheap fuel and will continue to play a significant role in power generation and steel production.  But coal use contributes significantly to CO2 emissions.  In the future technologies that enable carbon dioxide management will become increasingly important.
A MIT study discusses the interrelated technical, economic, environmental and political challenges facing increased coal-based power generation while managing carbon dioxide emissions from this sector.  Key findings in this study:
  • Coal is a low-cost, per BTU, mainstay of both the developed and developing world, and its use is projected to increase. Because of coal's high carbon content, increasing use will exacerbate the problem of climate change unless coal plants are deployed with very high efficiency and large scale Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is implemented.
  • CCS is the critical enabling technology because it allows significant reduction in CO2 emissions while allowing coal to meet future energy needs.
  • A significant charge on carbon emissions is needed in the relatively near term to increase the economic attractiveness of new technologies that avoid carbon emissions and specifically to lead to large-scale CCS in the coming decades. We need large-scale demonstration projects of the technical, economic and environmental performance of an integrated CCS system. We should proceed with carbon sequestration projects as soon as possible. Several integrated large- scale demonstrations with appropriate measurement, monitoring and verification are needed in the United States over the next decade with government support. This is important for establishing public confidence for the very large-scale sequestration program anticipated in the future. The regulatory regime for large- scale commercial sequestration should be developed with a greater sense of urgency, with the Executive Office of the President leading an interagency process.
  • The U.S. government should provide assistance only to coal projects with CO2 capture in order to demonstrate technical, economic and environmental performance.
  • Today, IGCC appears to be the economic choice for new coal plants with CCS. However, this could change with further RD&D, so it is not appropriate to pick a single technology winner at this time, especially in light of the variability in coal type, access to sequestration sites, and other factors. The government should provide assistance to several "first of a kind" coal utilization demonstration plants, but only with carbon capture.
  • Congress should remove any expectation that construction of new coal plants without CO2 capture will be "grandfathered" and granted emission allowances in the event of future regulation. This is a perverse incentive to build coal plants without CO2 capture today.
  • Emissions will be stabilized only through global adherence to CO2 emission constraints. China and India are unlikely to adopt carbon constraints unless the U.S. does so and leads the way in the development of CCS technology.
  • Key changes must be made to the current Department of Energy RD&D program to successfully promote CCS technologies. The program must provide for demonstration of CCS at scale; a wider range of technologies should be explored; and modeling and simulation of the comparative performance of integrated technology systems should be greatly enhanced.
The Australian Coal Association web site details what actions the Australian coal industry is taking to reduce the environmental impact of coal mining and coal use, see also the World Coal Institute.