THE COAL DISILLUSION IN ASIA

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Coal burning has an array of disadvantages, to the human as well to the environment, due to pollution, green house gases accumulation, various health hazards, and the list goes on. It is also a major culprit of the ongoing climate crisis, as the bi product of coal burning is the carbon, which is the key frontier in green house gases. The hazards of coal goes far and wide, from environmental degradation during mining, during its transportation, and even after its use it stays in the atmosphere without disintegrating for a long time, unraveling one hazard after the other.
Last December the government of China had issued a red alert in the country where even schools were closed due to the pollution level. The pollutants level in the atmosphere causes serious cardio vascular and respiratory diseases, which is like a slow poison to every polluted city dwellers. Even in India, according to a study published in “Modelling Trends in Solid and Hazardous Waste Management”, India meets 70 per cent of its energy requirements by burning low-grade coal, and on one hand, particulate matters emitted during the burning remain suspended in the air for a long time and on the other hand dumping of ash and other residues into water sources is also causing water pollution. In the case of Kathmandu which comes under the list of some of the most polluted cities of the world, the culprits are the brick kilns which runs on coal and firewood, and the haphazard road and pipeline construction. These are having a toll on the people and according to a study conducted and published on “Environmental health effects of brick kilns in Kathmandu valley”, “the health status of the school children attending the school close to the vicinity of the brick kilns was worse compared to the students attending the school away from the brick kilns.”
Even if the many disadvantages of the coal burning is evidently seen across the world, it is often weighed against the money that can be made from it. Therefore, despite the huge climate crisis going on right now, there is a lot of reluctance in going for clean energy sources. According to the publication in The Economic Times, Suresh Sivanandam, senior manager, refining research Asia Pacific, at Wood Mackenzie in Singapore says that “Diesel demand growth will likely drive refiners’ profit for producing a barrel of diesel from Dubai crude to an average of $11.40 a barrel in 2017, higher than the $10.70 a barrel recorded in 2016”. As stated in Pakistan Today, Dr Farid A Malik Ex-chairman Pakistan Science Foundation said that by looking at the electricity generation mix of the countries that are blessed with coal, it is evident that coal is and in near future will remain the largest contributor in meeting their energy need.
During the Conference of Parties (COP 22) in Paris, or the Paris Agreement, many industrialized countries signed the treaty to reduce their emission and to even give adaptation funds to the developing countries that were being affected by the climate crisis without really having a hand in contributing to the green house emission. But according to an article in the Guardian, a study conducted b Market Forces that examined 22 deals involving 13.1 gigawatts of coal-fired power in Indonesia found that “ 91% of the projects had the backing of foreign governments through export credit agencies or development banks.” Julien Vincent, executive director of Market Forces says “Right now, several key countries supporting the Paris climate change agreement are actively undermining it by trying to expand the polluting coal-power sector in other countries.”
Many a times, the climate negotiations might even come as unfair to the under developed countries, and it seems like it is only pointing towards halting their development. It is sometimes taken into notion that all the European and western developed countries developed due to the coal and industrialization, and asking for its halting, is like asking for the developing countries to halt their development before they even began. It seems like the only thing asked from countries like ours, Nepal, is adaptation, but still so much of infrastructural development is required in order to meet the basic requirements of so many people. So , instead of only adaptation, if the clean energy were marketed as a developmental option, its concept would highly be welcomed.
Having said that lots is being done to promote alternative energy sources. According to the study conducted by Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government institution over 50 institutions are involved in the RE sector ranging from government, educational institutions, non-governmental institutions, private sector and development partners. The main nodal government agency is the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC) that facilitates policy and planning, regulates, as well as implements RE programme. According to the report “With average solar radiation varying from 3.6 to 6.2 kWh/m2 per day and sunshine for about 300 days per year, the commercial potential for grid was estimated at 2,100MW, out of which achieved total 18473.598kWp from Jan 1999 till 15 July 2016”. Similarly, estimated generation potential of 3000MW, commercially viable estimated was ~ 448 MW, out of which cumulative total of 113.6 kW installed till mid 2016 – 65kW by AEPC, 45.1kW by private sector, 3.5kW by Practical Action. Even in China, according to the most recent annual report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, more than 2.5 million people work in the solar power sector alone in China, compared with 260,000 people in the U.S. According to an article in the National Geographic, “Now mainly powered by coal, India is adding 50 percent more solar and wind than the U.S. currently has installed. It is replacing 770 million street and household lights with energy-saving and long-lasting LEDs and bringing electric access for the first time to tens of thousands of poor rural villages.”
Coal and clean energy seem to be in seesaw, with more weight going on to the alternative energy sources. Now revolutionary but feasible technologies, accessibility, affordability with a very sustainable policy is what is needed to completely put reliance on the clean energy sources.

Anuska Joshi
The writer is graduate of Environmental Science from Tribhuwan University.