Improving access to energy

Energy is fundamental to development. Without reliable modern energy services hospitals and schools cannot function and business and industry cannot grow to provide employment and economic growth.

Coal has a fundamental role in providing access to base load electricity and is a critical building block for development – metallurgical coal is an essential ingredient in steel and much of the world’s cement is produced using coal, both vital materials in building sustainable societies.


  • Access to energy
  • On-grid electricity
  • Low emission technologies
  • Further information
  • Sustainable development news

Access to energy

860 million people across the globe currently living without access to electricity. Nearly 2.6 billion people do not have clean cooking facilities. The problem is spread across the developing world, but it is particularly severe in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia, which together account for 95% of people in energy poverty. Without a commitment to achieve universal energy access it has been estimated that by 2030, there will be an additional 1.5 million premature deaths per year caused by household pollution from burning wood and dung and through a lack of basic sanitation and healthcare.

Access to energy in China

Coal plays a critical role in bringing affordable, reliable electricity to hundreds of millions of people in developing and emerging economies, particularly across Asia. 

The World Bank estimates that in the last three decades 600 million people have been lifted out of poverty – almost all of those in China. Remove China from the mix and poverty levels in the rest of the world have barely improved. The link between access to affordable power from coal, economic growth and prosperity is clear. In China close to 99 percent of the population is connected to the grid.

On-grid electricity

Additional on-grid electricity generation by fuel in the Energy for All Case compared with the New Policies Scenario 2030

Source: World Energy Outlook 2011

Coal resources exist in many developing countries, including those with significant energy challenges. Coal has an important role to play in supplying base-load electricity. Coal-fired electricity can be fed into national grids and will bring energy access to millions, supporting economic growth in the developing world.

The IEA World Energy Outlook 2011 highlights that "coal alone accounts for more than 50% of the total on-grid additions" required to achieve the IEA's Energy for All case. This clearly demonstrates coal's fundamental role in supporting modern base load electricity. Many countries with electricity challenges are also able to access coal resources in an affordable and secure way to fuel the growth in their electricity supply.

All sources of energy are necessary to meet the huge demand for electricity. Renewable energy will have a particular role in providing off-grid electricity and in meeting peak demand. In countries where there are significant coal resources, it is likely to be the preferred fuel for supplying base load, grid-based electricity.

Low emission technologies

Low emission coal technologies are important in enabling very real energy needs worldwide to be met, while also reducing CO2 emissions and meeting climate ambitions.

Deploying high efficiency, low emission (HELE) coal-fired power plants is a key first step along a pathway to near-zero emissions from coal with carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS). In addition to significant benefits from reduced CO2 emissions, these modern high efficiency plants  have significantly reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM). Beyond the climate benefits of reduced CO2 emissions, reduction in these pollutants is of additional importance at the local and regional level to address air quality and related health concerns

Further information

Coal - Energy for Sustainable Development

WCA Energy Poverty and Sustainable Development Policy Statement

Cornerstone, Vol 3, Issue 2

Coal Matters: Coal and Modern Infrastructure