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According to the Nigerian Minister of Power, the quantity of coal deposits in Nigeria could provide electricity for the next 20-30 years. The Minister of Mines and Steel Development seemed to agree when he announced in August that Nigeria would produce 30% of power from coal by 2015. Given the dire electricity situation in the country, where every citizen can light about 3 bulbs from the national grid, coal might look like an achievable and affordable option.

However, the current power debate in Nigeria does not dwell enough on the possible side effects of coal power, which include air pollution, health hazards and climate change. The cost of coal rises when external costs relating to these side effects are factored in. A World Bank report on coal in China estimates the environmental and health cost of coal to amount to 8 per cent of Chinese GDP.

Harvard University has estimated the cost of coal to the US economy to be at least US$ 500 billion per year. The New York Academy of Sciences calculated that the US loses about 28 cents per KWh due to the adverse impact of coal fired plants.

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Coal has being a major cause of social unrest in China due to the high level of pollution the citizens have to endure. Meanwhile recent figures have shown that millions of people in India have suffered from asthma leading to 100,000 premature deaths according to this report by Hans Verolme.

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Being pure carbon, coal is the dirtiest energy source, contributing 72% of global CO2 emissions from power generation. It might be assumed that after the end of the Kyoto Protocol, a successor treaty would penalize CO2 emissions including those from coal. Already, international oil companies are calculating such a penalty of more than $40 per tonne of carbon into their future drilling projects. China and the US have signed a joint commitment to reduce their CO2 emissions. China has set itself a target to generate 20% of their electricity from renewable sources.

The question needs to be asked whether Nigeria is ready to bear the true cost of coal energy, whilst not exploring her huge renewable energy potentials.