The greatest concern on the use of coal as the future source of energy is its negative impact on the environment. Its effect on the environment is based on its recovery method and how it is used. Coal is considered as the dirtiest energy source in the United States. Its negative environmental impact is more so when it is burned to release energy. On burning, it releases pollutants that include mercury, sulfur, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a chief contributor to global warming, sulfur contributes to the formation of acid rain; mercury causes toxicity of the nervous system while nitrogen leads to the formation of acid rain and smog. Issues related to its mining include contamination of water, pollution of the air through coal dust and destruction of ecosystem in areas where coal deposits are found. This occurs mostly in surface mining where the covering vegetation is destroyed and the displacement of wildlife and the habitat (Freese, 2003).
The greatest challenge of sustainable development is meeting the growing global energy demand. Sustainable development reflects on the impact of human activities on the social well being, on the environment and on economic development. The coal industry has tried to implement these principles of sustainable development in their organizations. There are many people who do not have electricity because of the high cost of electricity produced by other sources. Use of coal for electricity production can lead to production of adequate and affordable energy.
The greatest challenge of coal is to improve its environmental performance so as it can meet all the objectives of sustainable development. This can be achieved through deployment of new clean coal technologies on its mining process and use of technologies that aim at lowering the emissions (Copley, 2004).
Coal mining has a negative impact on the environment especially surface mining. This is because it requires disturbance of large areas of land which leads to an increase of various environmental challenges. Some of these challenges include erosion of the soil, pollution of the environment with dust, noise and contamination of the water. All these factors affect the biodiversity negatively. There is need to minimize the overall effect of coal mining on the environment. This can be achieved through pre planning projects which are carefully drawn, implementation of pollution control measures in the mined sites, carefully monitoring the effects of mining on the environment, rehabilitation of the mined areas, minimization of the impact of coal mining on the neighboring communities in terms of noise and dust, and consideration of the effect both immediate and long term of land capability and usage (World Coal Institute, 2010).
The government has the role of identifying, assessing and mitigating the impacts of coal on the human and environmental factors. The government achieves this through its agencies like Environmental Impact Assessment. Protection of the environment is of national interest. Therefore governments all over the world have a duty, a responsibility and a commitment of protecting the environment. It is also the role of the government to protect the health and safety of the miners. In order to achieve sustainable development, the government must be committed in protecting the life, health and properties of all the people affected by mining of coal. This can be achieved through enactment and enforcement of suitable state mining and reclamation laws. These laws should also ensure that the environment is protected during coalmining and that the land where coal has been mined is reclaimed adequately after coal mining. The private sector has the role of investing in clean coal technology and should be commitment and support the government initiatives of moving the nation towards greater sustainability and energy reliability (Glasson, 2005).
Climate change- this is one of the environmental challenges facing the sustainable development of coal. Global temperatures are rising due to greenhouse gases emission which results from use of coal as a source of energy. The emission of these gases is mostly during the utilization of coal to produce energy.
Coal is a non renewable resource. Therefore its continual use is unsustainable in the long run. Though the coal reserves are expected to last for hundred of years to come, the fact remains that mining industry cannot present itself as a sustainable industry. Therefore ensuring the long term viability of coal as a source of energy is a big challenge.
The coal mining industry is in conflict with the indigenous people, the workforce and with the mining communities in general. The mining communities are not ready and willing to tolerate the noise, coal trains, dust and the large holes that are left after mining. The coal mining industry has a challenge of making a positive impact on local communities.
The long working hours that the mining industry expects its workers to work are unsustainable in the long run. This has resulted into young people leaving the coal mining industry due to high fatigue levels. Therefore the mining industry has experienced an unsustainable use of labor. Many countries have been unable to control coal mining and its use towards economic development. This is more so in politically unstable countries with large coal reserves but which have not able to utilize coal for development.
Another challenge is in the effective control management and usage of land especially after coal mining has been completed. Also the reclamation of the land to avoid safety hazards has posed as a challenge.
Though the coal mining industry has put much effort in environmental management in its mine sites, the use of the final product has had a negative impact on the environment. The mining companies have no direct control over this problem (Maitland, 2003)
Economic growth and environmental protection are parallels that are usually in conflict in most cases. But the concept of sustainable development comes in to resolve this dichotomy and stress the fact that it is possible to have economic development while at the same time protecting the environment. Many countries and governments world wide are committed to the principles of sustainable development as they have realized that it is possible to eat a cake and have it. By turning the challenges into opportunities, most countries have been able to apply a values- based strategic approach and are willing to collaborate with other partners to achieve sustainable development.
For coal to attain sustainable development, it should embrace the social dimension feature, the economic feature and the environmental feature. Coal mining has not been able to effectively embrace the environmental feature which is a very important feature for maintenance of sustainable development. Therefore the mining and utilization of coal as a source of energy has not achieved sustainable development.
The social dimension has not been attained as well. This is because the coal mining has been in conflict with the neighboring community due to issues like noise and dust. Though the communities are benefiting from the energy produced they are not comfortable with the overall effect of coal mining.
Though the economic dimension can be said to be achieved through production, availability and supply of power it alone cannot support sustainable development.
Therefore much needs to be done on the use of coal for it to achieve sustainable development.