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WRI: Coal power to increasingly threaten global water resources

global water resources

The World Resources Institute warns that coal power will put increasing pressure on already scare water resources. Creative Commons: 2009

A new report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) has warned that coal plants are putting heavy stress on the world’s water resources.

Published in the World Coal Association journal, Cornerstone, the article warned that such water stress was only set to worsen as climate change accelerates.

It is predicted that world water supply could fall 40% short of demand by 2030.

The WRI pointed to emerging markets, particularly those in Asia, as putting particular stress on water supplies due to coal consumption, while it also stressed that coal mining would also continue to leave water resources scare.

Of the 10 biggest coal-consuming countries, half are considered highly water-stressed, warned the report, using more than the annually available freshwater supply.

India, the third largest consumer of coal, scored highest in the rankings of water risk, with a score of 3.9 – 70 per cent of its coal-fired capacity faces water stress or scarcity, said the WRI.

South Korea, Australia, Japan, and South Africa saw the next highest levels of water supply risk thanks to coal-fired activity, according to the WRI’s rankings.

Another two countries had “medium to high” water stress, the WRI said, and they happen to be the world’s two biggest consumers of coal. China was by far the most heavy consumer, with 1.873 billion tons of oil equivalent (BToe) consumed annually. But 58 per cent of the country’s existing coal-fired power generation capacity is located in high to extremely high water-stress areas, and more capacity is planned in areas where the water supply is already stressed, the report said.

The US followed a far second in coal consumption, with 437.8 million tons (Mtoe) a year, but it too is facing growing concerns over water supplies in a number of key regions.

Coal’s heavy reliance on water has an effect on the commodity’s prices when water risks rise, the WRI said, citing an Australian drought in 2012 that caused coal prices to spike.

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