In the absense of effective and affordable carbon capture and storage, coal has no future compatible with a stable climate. Eliminating conventional coal plants and preventing the construction of new ones is thus an important front in the effort to fight climate change.
To get a sense of where to concentrate that effort, it is worth examining where the world’s biggest reserves of coal actually are:
- The United States – 242.6 billion tonnes (gigatonnes) – 28.6% of the global total
- Russia – 157 gigatonnes – 18.5%
- China – 114.5 gigatonnes – 13.5%
- Australia – 76.5 gigatonnes – 9%
- India – 56.6 gigatonnes – 6.7%
- South Africa – 48 gigatonnes – 5.7%
According to the Energy Information Administration, burning one tonne of coal produces between 1.40 and 2.84 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That means that burning all these reserves would add between 973 and 1,974 gigatonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. By comparison, the total quantity of human emissions to date is about 488 gigatonnes.