November 20, 2013
The top UN climate official, Ms. Christiana Figueres, has been of an unprecedented “bluntness” when telling coal industry officials that “coal must change rapidly and dramatically”.
Her declaration was echoed by a statement distributed by 27 leading scientists from across the world urging that most fossil energy energy reserves have to stay in the ground to avoid a climate catastrophe. Coal must be foremost because of its exceptionally high carbon content, twice as high as that of gas and 10 times higher than wind or solar.
This took place November 18th 2013 at the “World Coal Summit” organised by the World Coal Association nearby the on going 19th International climate meeting in Warsaw.
What had been envisaged by the Polish government as an opportunity to explore the chances of energy efficient coal technology turned into a PR disaster for the Polish government and the coal industry.
After the two parallel mega-meetings in Warsaw on climate and coal it has become evident to everyone involved in energy policy or business that it will be impossible burn all the huge coal reserves in countries like China, USA, Russia, India, Poland and South Africa without warming the earth beyond the two centigrade target fixed by the international community at the 2010 Cancun Climate Conference.
No UN official has ever dared to be so outspoken as to tell the coal industry that they are putting their shareholders and the global climate at risk if they failed to search for alternative methods of producing energy.
The new message for the coal industry is: go for wind and sun energy or carbon capture and storage (CCS) if you want to survive! German utility companies are already experiencing the costly transition to low-carbon energies sources that the government has imposed on them by its decision to abandon nuclear power.
The response from the industry that coal is necessary to supply more than 1.3 billion human beings without access to electricity is specious: electricity can be generated by gas, wind and sun with much lower C02 emission and no higher costs.
The Warsaw “confrontations” have ushered in the real issue of future climate policy: How to organise the transition from fossil to renewable energy, starting with coal, the most polluting fossil source,.
That battle can only be won if the governments of the key coal producing countries align with the UN on the need to keep most of the resources in the ground. As a first step, all international finance institutions World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Development, African Development, European Investment Bank) must stop financing coal projects and coal power plants as of 2015.
In the USA the transition has started thanks to two parallel drivers: the discovery of large volumes of cheap shale gas and the imposition of strict power generation efficiency standards: no more than 0.5 kg C02 emissions per generated kWh.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 19/11/2013.
Author : Eberhard Rhein