Coal has been touted as the “cheapest” of fuel options justifying its use in electricity generation and other industries in the Philippines. However, there are hidden costs that make coal consumption costly.

Let’s take the case of coal use for electricity generation. In its 2020 report, Clean Air Asia enumerates the harmful health and environmental impacts from coal-fired power plants. Other costs to society, environment and the economy include lives lost from coal mining disasters, biodiversity loss from deforestation, and soil erosion.

  1. Environmental costs

    Coal-fired power plants emit high levels of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) which contribute to global warming. Among the other environmental problems linked to pollutants from coal-fired power plants include the formation of acid rain, damage to crops and vegetation, the contamination of air, water, and soil, and loss of ecological biodiversity.
  2. Health costs

    The air pollutants from coal-fired power plants directly influence local air quality and impact the health of exposed populations.

    Clean Air Asia’s 2020 report states that “Air pollution accounted for an estimated 6.67 million premature deaths in the world in 2019 and on average reduces life expectancy by 1 year and 8 months. Health impacts due to exposure to air pollution include increased hospitalizations, respiratory infections, heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia, strokes, chronic lung disease, and lung cancer, with almost 70% of the burden of air pollution-related mortality borne by Asia (Health Effects Institute, 2020).

    Studies show that children exposed to coal-fired power plant emissions face the highest risks, resulting in significant adverse effects on pediatric neurodevelopment, birth weight, and pediatric respiratory morbidity (Amster & Levy, 2019). In 2019, exposure to ambient and household air pollution was responsible for the deaths of about 500,000 infants in the first month after birth (Health Effects Institute, 2020).

    In general, communities living nearest to coal-fired power plants, or those with the highest exposures, face as much as five times the risk compared with those residing farther away (Munawer, 2017; EJA, 2017). Depending on the specific pollutants and the dominant meteorological and other atmospheric conditions, hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants can travel from 8 to 48 kilometers from the stack unless they are deposited on the ground, chemically transformed, or removed from the air (EH&E, 2011). In Europe, studies have shown that coal-fired power plant emissions in Poland and Germany have also impacted surrounding countries, causing an estimated 7,000 premature deaths abroad (CAN Europe, et al., 2016).

    It was found that for every 1 kilowatt (kW) increase in coal capacity per person in a country, the relative risk for lung cancer increased by a factor of 59% (Lin et al., 2019).”
  3. Loss of lives from coal mining disasters

    Coal mining has resulted in several mining disasters. Notable is the methane gas explosion inside the mining shaft in Malangas in Zamboanga del Sur in 1994 where at least 64 people were killed. Two coal miners died while six others were buried when a coal mine tunnel in Dalaguete, Cebu collapsed due to a methane gas explosion in 2005. In Argao, Cebu, a methane gas explosion in a coal mine killed two miners in 2008. Six coal miners died and three remained missing after being buried by a landslide in Antique in 2015; at the same open pit mine, five miners were killed in 2013 when a wall of the same pit collapsed.
  4. Deforestation and erosion

    Mining operations remove the soil and rock above coal deposits or seams. As part of the process of clearing a coal mine, trees are cut down or burned; plants are uprooted, and the topsoil is scraped away. This results in biodiversity loss and the destruction of the land and soil erosion. The loosened topsoil can be washed down by rain, and the sediments can get into rivers, streams, and waterways.

    As huge volumes of topsoil are scraped, and with the muddy character of the surface materials in the affected barangays, eroded materials would be deposited in low areas. Excavations will also cause heavy sedimentation in rivers.

    When choosing the country’s energy pathway, policymakers must consider the high price we pay for our continued coal consumption.


Clean Air Asia. 2020. South and Southeast Asian Countries Coal-Fired Power Plant Emission Standards

CNN Philippines. 2015. Article: “IBON: Coal pit accident another point for junking Mining Act”.

Philippine Star. 2005. Article: “Tragedy At Dalaguete Coal Mine: Methane blast kills 8 miners”.

Philippine Star. 2008. Article: “Methane gas caused Argao mine explosion”.

The Associated Press. 1994. Article: “No More Survivors Expected To Be Found After Mine Disaster”.

The Toxic Relationship with Coal in the Philippines

The Toxic Relationship with Coal in the Philippines

The history of coal use in the Philippines is short but suffused with paradox. Despite being touted as a cheap energy source, coal has been an expensive form of energy in the Philippines in more ways than one.

Coal was discovered in 1827 in Cebu, but the scale of its exploitation and use remained minute until one and a half centuries later. And with good reason.

Until the early 1900s, coal mines were uneconomic to run. The few mining ventures during the Spanish and American periods were financial failures.

This is because much of the Philippine coal deposits were not only inferior in quality but also not extending in great areas. Moreover, the lack of road infrastructure meant that transportation was a costly added expense to bring coal from the mines to population centers. The American-era railway system connected coal mines from the north and south of Cebu City to the city center, from where coal found its way to Manila, the seat of colonial rule; however, this was short-lived.

To meet its coal demand, the country paid a high price for importing coal from far distances. When the world was experiencing a shortage of coal and paying exorbitant prices for it following the First World War, the government created the National Coal Company in 1924 to increase its indigenous coal production; its goals were never achieved.

After the Spaniards and Americans came the Japanese. They demolished mining sites, except for a few copper and chromite properties, by burning, dynamiting, or looting essential machinery to be shipped to Japan. They left a paralyzed mining industry in 1945 following their defeat in World War II. The rail line was dismantled during the war as well.

Coal was underdeveloped from the Second World War to the 1970s because the country had easy access to cheap imported petroleum. Faced with the global shortage and rising prices of oil in the 1970s, the Philippines, yet again, turned to indigenous coal to reduce its bill for imported fossil fuels.

The realization of developing countries of the effects of coal on air quality and its contribution to global warming in the 1980s did nothing to slow the Philippine government’s plan to shift to coal.

Under the Coal Development Act of 1976, the government forced industries with a voracious demand for fuel to convert to coal. The industries were promised an uninterrupted supply of reasonably priced coal.

In only a few decades, the government’s efforts somehow reduced the country’s nearly complete dependence on oil and raised its consumption of coal. But coal demand, just the same, has since been met by imported coal.

In 2020, the country’s primary energy consumption is split among coal, oil, natural gas, and renewable sources.

But coal’s ascendance has come with significant environmental and social repercussions.

Find out more about the hidden costs of coal use.

Clean Air Asia is an international non-governmental organization leading the regional mission for better air quality, and healthier, more livable cities throughout Asia. Our mission is to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Asia and contribute to the development of a more sustainable, equitable and healthier region.Read More >>
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Clean Air Asia has been working in China since 2002 to improve air quality management (AQM) and promote green transport, and was the first NGO to establish a city AQM network throughout the country. Our China office was officially registered as a foreign NGO in China in March 2018, with the Ministry of Ecology and Environment as our professional supervisory organization.


Clean Air Asia has been working in India since 2008, engaging with Indian cities for better air quality management and aligning with our overall work program on broad air quality interventions. We provide scientific input to city governments for better air quality, particularly in the context of facilitating Clean Air Action Plans and education/communication for cleaner air.