Digging Deeper: The Human Rights Impacts of Coal in the Global South

Coal was at the heart of the first Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America. Today, in much of the Western world, it seems like an anachronism, a fuel from a dirtier time, when workers’ black lung and soot-coated growing cities were accepted as the cost of progress.
Today, despite sluggish growth in coal consumption among developed countries and strong advocacy for transitioning away from coal around the upcoming Paris climate change negotiations, coal production and use have yet to decline globally. Much of this has to do with increasing production and demand in the Global South.
This research focuses on four country case studies—Colombia, India, South Africa and Egypt—because of their geographical representation, and the diversity of their profiles in terms of coal production and consumption. Colombia, India and South Africa are three of the top coal producers in the world, but while Colombia exports almost all its coal, India and South Africa use most of the coal that they produce internally. Egypt has negligible coal reserves but has recently opened its doors to coal use in its industries. The different political conditions and social groups that are most vulnerable to violations in each of these countries illustrate the range of impacts that coal can have amid a range of contexts – but also reveal common trends.