NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Developing Countries Need Coal-Fired Power Plants

December 19, 2013

Coal has lifted 680 million people in China out of poverty over the past 30 years, says Bjørn Lomborn, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

  • Coal provides cheap and reliable power, which leads to development.
  • Chinese cities like Beijing have bad smog problems from coal, but the economic tradeoff has been well worth it.
  • In 1982, the average Chinese person earned $585 per year.
  • In 2012, the average Chinese person earned $7,958 per year.

Even with these benefits, many rich countries do not support the use of coal in poor countries.

  • Both the United States and the United Kingdom abstained from the World Bank vote to finance a coal-fired power plant in South Africa in 2010, even though the United States admitted that without a plant, South Africa's "economic recovery will suffer, adversely impacting electrification, job creation and social indicators."
  • This year, both countries announced that they would not back international finance for coal-fired power plants in developing nations.

Coal is the cheapest option for poor nations.

  • In South Africa, coal costs just $0.09 per kilowatt hour (kWh).
  • In Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya, electricity costs from hydropower, gas and oil will likely be between $0.16 and $0.25 per kWh.
  • Solar lights, on the other hand, cost $2 per kWh.

For the world's poor, coal-fired electricity is a necessity. Many in developing nations burn dung, cardboard, and twigs indoors to cook and stay warm. This indoor pollution is not only 10 times higher than in the cities of advanced nations, but it is responsible for 3.5 million deaths each year.

Too many people are unwilling to acknowledge the environmental tradeoffs needed to improve the lives of the poor across the world.

Source: Bjørn Lomborn, "The Power to Develop," Project Syndicate, December 12, 2013.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues