Sustainable Development in the Production and Use of Coal
AUTHOR: Jan Vernon
DATE: February 2004
Heightened awareness of the global pressures of population, poverty and environmental degradation has placed sustainable development high on the agenda of international policy makers. A widely accepted definition of sustainable development is 'development that meets the needs of the present generation without undermining the capacity of future generations to meet their needs'. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WST), held in Johannesburg in September 2002, commitments were made to increase access to clean water and proper sanitation, to increase access to energy services, to improve health conditions and agriculture, particularly in drylands, and to better protect the world's biodiversity and ecosystems. Coal is a crucial and enduring element in a modern, balanced energy portfolio, providing a bridge to the future as an important low cost and secure energy solution to sustainability challenges. The immediate task is to accelerate the deployment and further development of innovative, advanced, efficient, cleaner coal technologies whilst continuing to meet the energy needs of society and minimising environmental impacts.
This report reviews what is understood by, what has been achieved, and the future prospects for sustainable development in the production and use of coal in different regions of the world. Coal's interactions with the economy, society and environment throughout the coal chain are examined, together with technologies and other approaches to address the challenges that sustainable development poses for coal. Actions required to achieve sustainable development in coal production and utilisation are identified and the industry's progress in meeting these requirements is assessed. It is clear that the coal industry has made considerable progress in understanding the sustainable development challenges it faces and is beginning to address the issues. As yet, though, few companies have adopted a comprehensive approach to incorporating sustainable development thinking into business decision-making.