The Coal Sigils, is the first of The Sigils dedicated to energy security, a series of daily papers scanning the horizon for weak signals related to various issues relevant to the security of societies, polities, nations and citizens.

Why a Sigils focused on coal?

According to a release by the IEA,

“As of March 2012, approximately 40% of the world’s electricity needs were provided by coal. Yes, coal is the second source of primary energy after oil.”

Furthermore, considering the progressive or rapid abandonment of nuclear energy, as in Germany or in Japan, which shut off its last reactor on 5 May 2012, coal could very well see an increase in demand, at least for a few years, until alternative energy mix are implemented.

Besides electricity, coal is also used in steel and aluminium production, in the manufacture of cement, increasingly to produce transport fuels from liquefied or gasified coal (Survey of Energy Resources, Nov 2010, p.3).

The use of coal varies according to regions, with a demand increase forecast in Asia, and, on the contrary, a diminution in the West (without considering the nuclear free policies impact).

The environmental and health impacts of coal mining, processing and usage (World Coal Association, 2005, 2012) make it a highly questionable source of energy, although many efforts are made to struggle against them.

Last but not least, data regarding proved reserves seem to be controversial, which could create surprise,* while the unequal distribution of coal exports (90% originate from six countries: Indonesia, Australia, Russia, South Africa, Colombia, and the United States) create the potential for tension (IEA 2012).

All those points deserve monitoring if we are to avoid surprise and develop proper foresight in energy security.

Read The Coal Sigils daily.

The Sigils use Paper.Li as curation platform.


*Recent surveys tend to emphasise plentiful reserves. However, the November 2010 Survey of Energy Resources,  by the World Energy Council details the difficulties surrounding the gathering of data and related assessments, pp.1-3. Other estimates on potential Peak Coal can be found, among others in Energy Watch Group, Coal: resources and future production, 2007; Kavalov, B.  and S. D. Peteves, The Future of Coal, Institute for Energy (IFE), prepared for European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2007. Slides; Vernon, Chris  Coal – The Roundup, The Oil Drum Europe, 2007; Li, Minqi, Peak Coal and China, The Oil Drum, July 4, 2011. See also, Rutledge, David, “Estimating Long-Term World Coal Production with Logit and Probit Transforms,” International Journal of Coal Geology, Jan 2011; US National Academy of Sciences, Coal – Report in Brief, 2007.


Cusick, Daniel  and ClimateWire, “Asian Demand Forecasts Boom for Coal,” Scientific American, May 14, 2012.

IEA, FAQs: Coal, 2012

The Associated Press, “Japan shuts off nuclear power as thousands celebrate – Island nation is without electricity from nuclear power for first time in four decades,” May 5, 2012 – CBC News.

World Coal Association, The coal resource a comprehensive overview of coal, 2005

World Coal Association, Coal – Energy for Sustainable Development, 2012.

World Energy Council, among many publications, Survey of Energy Resources, November 2010.


Charbon après lavage by By Apphim (Charbon) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Shan sigil by Vincent Ramos (Dessin personnel manuscrit d’un caractère chinois dans une graphie ancienne. Publié sous licence <a href=”/wiki/GFDL” title=”GFDL”>GFDL</a>. Cette image est aussi présente dans mon site web, sous copyright).

Published by Dr Helene Lavoix (MSc PhD Lond)

Dr Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the President/CEO of The Red Team Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues. Her current focus is on the rise of China, the COVID-19 Pandemic, the methodology of SF&W, radicalisation as well as new tech and security.

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